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features /  music feature
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joanna newsom and the new weird america
joanna newsom and the new weird america
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Here comes New Weird America.

Onstage at the ICA, Joanna Newsom cuts a singular figure. Playing songs from her Milk-Eyed Mender LP, she blends a delicate, deranged voice with lapping harp technique and otherworldly charm. Newsom and other breakthrough artists like Devendra Banhart are the tip of an emerging New Weird America scene.

Listening to Banhart’s folk wit and warble on his second full-length XL release, Nino Rojo, immediately opens up familiar and distant forms of classic songwriting, recently sparking interest in a set of intriguing acts from across the water. You can follow his lead to the self-titled debut by Philadelphia-based Espers, who share a “combined interest in folk and acid rock”, conjuring the mood of Donovan, Comus and The Incredible String Band.

Devendra Banhart and CocoRosie

Similar song-oriented material from CocoRosie, Josephine Foster and reissues of long-forgotten acts like Vashti Bunyan and Linda Perhacs have steadily gathered a wider audience for this genre. But they also act as a primer for the more weathered underbelly of strange cosmic music that is created in home studios, in downtown NYC warehouses and at countryside hangouts…

Acts such as Sunburned Hand Of Man, Six Organs Of Admittance, 500mg, No-Neck Blues Band and Jack Rose are tying together the threads of primitive acoustics, free jazz and hipster psychedelics before distributing them on homemade CD-Rs and limited vinyl runs. Michael Gibbons, who records as 500mg, acknowledges that “all these artists are pursuing very personal music and making very human sounds.”

Joanna Newsom, in session at the ICA

When journalist David Keenan addressed this particular musical eruption as New Weird America, he was making a reference to the Old Weird America that originally influenced pioneering 60s fingerpickers John Fahey, Robbie Basho and, more famously, a young Bob Dylan.

As John Moloney of Sunburned Hand Of Man elegantly concludes: “This musical direction is part of a destiny and we always consider ourselves lucky that we can do what we do. There is a much bigger picture behind what we do and it’s evident in what we do. It’s a bit more of a master plan or a divining rod than a direction. We're drawn to what we do by unseen forces.”

James Rutledge 05 November 04

suggested listening

joanna newsom the milk-eyed mender (drag city)
devendra banhart rejoicing in the hands (xl)
espers espers (locust)
cocorosie la maison de mon reve (touch & go)
josephine foster & the supposed all the leaves are gone (locust)
marissa nadlerballads of living and dying (private)
sunburned hand of man rare wood (spirit of orr)
six organs of admittance dark noontide (holy mountain)
500mg vertical approach (eclipse)
no-neck blues band sticks & stones may break… (revenant)
jack rose two originals of (eclipse)
Read members' comments.
  joanna newsom
4 comments | last comment Oct 13, 2006
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48 comments | last comment May 6, 2006
  Elf Music
19 comments | last comment Mar 16, 2006

see also
devendra banhartdevendra banhart session

devendra banhartdevendra banhart
album review

xl recordings
label profile

album review

other sessions

hebden and reid

jamie lidell

secret machines

nathan fake


broken social...

animal collective

arctic monkeys


green man


the rakes

by the daily growl
by the daily growl

music archive
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books and comics archive
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radio 1
radio 1 jo whiley

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