Joanna Newsom DIVERS

In our age of acronyms, emoticons and disappearing messages, “Divers,” Joanna Newsom’s first album since 2010, is an ancient codex providing an opportunity for submersion deep into its folds or to just float safely on its surface. Both can be equally rewarding experiences.

Occasionally reining back her usual preference for length — of a lyric, a song or a whole album — “Divers” could occupy just 52 minutes of your time. But Newsom builds songs like cathedrals of sound, layers of voices, instruments and words reaching you from every direction. Take the express tour or settle in the nave and stay for hours.

The record never loses its sonic clarity — producers Steve Albini and Noah Georgeson, take a bow — even as Newsom’s crisp harp, regal piano and often multitracked voice is enveloped by a well-cast collection of bouzoukis, English horns, too many keyboards to name, the City of Prague Symphonic Orchestra and even a Hohner Guitaret, a kalimba in a box.

Newsom’s voice is a kaleidoscope, every slight turn coloring the songs in varied explosions of emotion. Sometimes it turns excessive — in “The Things I Say” her vocal character mutates every few words — and there is little to dampen her sudden highs and sharps, which are much more pronounced than on her previous album, the three-disc “Have One On Me.”

Fewer vocal acrobatics would not necessarily result in less thrilling performances, just less distracting ones.

Lyrically, there is plenty of room for discoveries and interpretations with Newsom’s unedited love of language-encompassing war, unstable lives and relationships, references to New York, both clear and obscure, and much more.

Pablo Gorondi

The Associated Press


The National’s lead singer, Matt Berninger, gets adventurous on a new disc from his side project, EL VY. Teaming up with Menomena’s Brent Knopf, Berninger gets out of his cloudy comfort zone on the duo’s debut “Return to the Moon.”

With The National, Berninger even admitted that the band’s records were hard to write, being in that wine-addled state of regrets and embarrassment that often are that band’s subject matter.

Here, the singer sounds looser. At times, he exudes a confidence that hasn’t been heard since The National’s “Alligator.” Check “I’m the Man to Be,” where Berninger pokes fun at his hipster credentials.

While EL VY may not stray too far from Berninger’s typical lyrical mix, the background is more colorful. It’s not all whirring crescendos and string arrangements from Sufjan Stevens. No, Knopf should get credit for creating interesting ’70s-style, David Bowie-inspired pop for Berninger to walk all over.

Sure, it doesn’t all work. The album is front-loaded and starts to lose its pace toward the last four songs. However, it’s a mostly sunny, exciting departure for a man who is usually down in the dumps. Finally, It sounds like Berninger is somewhat smiling.

Matthew Sigur