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Boomkat Product Review:
Back in stock! We've been dreading having to describe what has quickly become one of our favourite records this year after a few weeks in its strangely compelling company. Newsom's 2004 debut 'The Milk Eyed Mender' made her something of a cult figure with it's oddball blend of Appalachian-style vocals and endearingly massaged harp-strings. The obligatory pressure to deliver a worthy successor followed, a task which almost always ends in disappointment, but Newsom has delivered an album so perfectly realised and epic that it almost defies Belief - utilising the virtuoso talents of string arranger Van Dyke Parks (best known for arranging and co-writing Brian Wilson's 'Smile') to forge an album that's timeless and totally unique. The peculiar title, pronounced 'Ees' gives us some insight into the musician's mindset - apparently the title comes from a mythical French city built below sea level. The legend goes that the city was one of the most beautiful in the world, and due to the people's decadence the city was flooded and lost forever confining it to Chinese whispers, folk songs and poems. What better way to herald in an album dipped in fantasy and mysticism, and I'm not trying to say the album is jokingly old-world, rather her oblique and sometimes absurd lyrical content has never sounded so fitting when framed in this way. From the gold leaf coated pages on the cd booklet to the medieval-style cover painting which seems full of hidden signs and ambiguity, every part of the record is there for a reason. The journey begins with 'Emily', a song dedicated to Newsom's sister (who guests on vocal harmonies) and we're already in simply heartbreaking territory with Van Dyke Parks' string arrangements making their first grandiose appearance. I'm in no doubt that this overblown, sometimes musical-like quality will polarise listeners but for me it makes perfect use of Newsom's ethereal vocal quality and her assured touch on the harp. The songs are now fully three dimensional and go through distinct movements using strange hooks which grab hold of you with both hands, refusing to let go. For me, the album's focal point comes on the earth-shatteringly good 'Only Skin'; a sixteen minute blockbuster containing more emotion and bravery than most artists will manage in a lifetime. As Newsom takes us through happiness, sadness, sweetness and darkness the track begins again mid-way through helped along by current squeeze Bill Callaghan (of Smog) who lends his distinctive and masculine tones to the piece. It is one of those moments when you think a song couldn't get any better - and then, shockingly it does. Albums like this come along only so very rarely, give it time and space and trust me, you won't be able to leave it far from earshot for long. Essential Purchase.