The Milk-Eyed Mender, by Joanna Newsome
Suggested by Peet Denny
If I had to pick my choice of the most impractical musical instrument, then the Harp would be high on the list.
There are many others to consider, naturally. At the mainstream end, there’s the piano, which is massively bulky and a proper pain to tune properly. I think the Harp edges that out, as it creates such a niche sound, while the piano is pretty versatile.
I’d rate the Harp higher than the Xylophone and Glockenspiel, as while it earns points for being infinitely easier to spell than either, it loses points for its overabundance of individual strings.
For an instrument so oddly extreme, it can be coaxed into sounds of great beauty. And Joanna Newsome plays it superbly.
Joanna is a multi-instrumentalist singer songwriter, who specialises in quirky and paired-back sound. Her weapons of choice are the harp and the piano, coupled with the musical bayonet of an idiosyncratic voice and oddball lyrics.
She does everything on this album.
“Everything”, on this album, is not very much.
Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a criticism. The Milk-Eyed Mender is the poster child for a certain style of musical minimalism, largely achieved by one person with one instrument playing spacious tunes to an audience of one. It’s beautifully composed, effortlessly presented, and so close and personal it’s as if Joanna is alongside you, playing her songs for your ears only. You can’t help but be drawn into her charming cloud.
At first, her voice comes over as affected and twee, as if it’s one step aside from the real world. However, it brings a child-like wonder to the sound, and innocence that lends an almost nursery rhyme quality to the album. It’s expressive, but someone of an acquired taste. I’m reminded of Bjork in her more reflective moments, whispering, understated, yet undeniably unhinged at the core.
Joanna’s voice is not entirely one-dimensional. It can be full of character – my favourite track Inflammatory Writ is a case in point – as well as laid back and dreamy, such as the album’s closer Clam, Crab, Cockle, Cowrie.
Overall, I’d give The Milk-Eyed Mender a worthy 6/10. It’s a delightfully simple album, worth exploring for the lyrical nuance and wit. I’d go higher, but it is a tad repetitive, and I’m sure it will only appeal to a subset of listeners. If you’re looking for an afternoon of gentle tranquillity with a subtle twist of the ludicrous, then look no further.
*looks left and right*
Phew, I’ve made it to the end of the review without calling this album The Milk-Eyed Member. Catastrophe averted!