I first heard of Joanna Newsom from Moistworks back in June, and then just recently caught her video on New York Noise (you can see it here). What is most immediately unusual about her music is that she is a harpist, while her childish voice and otherworldliness bring to mind both CocoRosie and fellow San Franciscan Noe Venable. (Indeed, both Noe and Newsom fit into a certain template, perhaps more common in the Bay Area then elsewhere, of the pretty young woman who is both a mystic dreamer and fiercely ambitious in her crafts; it’s a type I’ve had a tendency to fall for.)
Various people have tried to pin a name on what is beginning to look like some kind of a scene. Some have called it “freak-folk,” while the BBC calls it “the new weird America” and scoops Devandra Banhart into the pile, although I find his work a bit pedestrian. A better bet would be Chad Van Gaalen, although he’s Canadian. His song “Blood Machine” is a bit of sci-fi weirdness that manages to be heartrending, like a Ray Bradbury story.
I don’t know whether all these disparate artists are tapping into something common, or whether this uptick in weird Americana — also exemplified by the White Stripes — is just a coincidence. But there does seem to be something in the cultural moment that calls for either gnomic retrenchment or deadpan irony, or perhaps both at once.
In any case, the artists in today’s post have an intimacy to them, a secretiveness almost, that feels right for this season of long twilight and cold nights.