his is a three-song EP, and the only reason to write about it is—let’s not kid ourselves—to bait Googlers and quick glances from people who will likely buy, download, or reject it no matter what. Joanna Newsom put out an album called Ys nearly six months ago, and I—and plenty of people I know—still think it’s great and still have frothy late-night conversations about things like By what exact means did Joanna Newsom needle her bitchy, gnarled, weird self into our spirits and do irreparable damage. People who hate her are still hemming and hawing loudly with talking points as fresh as your mama jokes, waiting in the wings for a time like now, when Drag City teases our parched hearts with the promise that there will soon be new and even more ambitious Joanna Newsom songs to argue over.
“Colleen” is really the only new thing here, and it’s OK. At a hair under seven minutes, it’s shorter than even the shortest thing on Ys. The beginning sounds exactly like the gaping, mystic maw of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” which is sort of fortuitous given that Joanna’s fans and detractors alike can probably agree that she’s definitely going to inspire plenty of fan art involving wild animals in years to come. No mind as far as image goes, though: Joanna’ll never have the tarot sex stink that Stevie Nicks did, nor the coke habit, nor that soft-focus treatment that always made her seem like reanimated taxidermy. It is, though, maybe a little alarming that “Colleen,” complete with accordion-and-banjo jigging session, sounds slightly less beguilingly original and weird than the darkened nets of Ys, regardless of where you put beguiling originality on your value scale.
The other two songs on here are versions of “Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie” (from The Milk-Eyed Mender) and “Cosmia” (from Ys), recorded with her touring band. Why she’d pick one of the simplest, most unadorned songs from The Milk-Eyed Mender to perform with a small chamber group is beyond me. How many musicians does it take to play Joanna Newsom’s “Clam, Crab Cockle, Cowrie”?. I dunno how many. Five: Joanna Newsom and one guy to add backing vocals on two lines and then return to being dead silent with the other three. It’s like complicating a 2x4.
“Cosmia” was my favorite song from Ys, and also the shortest. It was also the closer: after 48 minutes of whining and wandering, after nearly 17 minutes of “Only Skin,” “Cosmia” was a face of hot tears—naked, almost embarrassing. Here, she dresses it up and stretches it out to 13 minutes. It’s a more interesting move than performing her older songs live, and a fairly successful one, too. If anything, Ys could’ve been longer. There, I said it. Hearing her take her time to wander through “Cosmia” and imagine small melodic alcoves here and there isn’t a revelation, but it does make sense.
All that said, the best thing about the EP is its title, and the fact that she now has enough fans to warrant a harmless stop-gap cash-in every now and again. She’s dragging her harp all over the freaking globe, so you might as well save the ten bucks for the live show—at the rate she’s been burning in the last two years, that should cover about a quarter of the ticket, provided you’re into the plebe seats.