It’s been a long five years since Joanna Newsom released her last album, Have One On Me. It’s a strange album to have to follow up, to boot: As an album spanning three discs, it was a veritable beast in its own right. Strong but fiendishly overdrawn, detailed in the simplicity of its songs. On the other hand, Divers is a much shorter and tighter release, not straying too far in style but improving on the previous formula in every way possible.
The songs across Divers are all fluid, often foregoing normal song structures and slowly evolving as they continue. This is especially true for the album’s first half. While Leaving The City initially starts with just Newsom herself and the harp, it’s quick to add an electronic line and drums into the mix, making for an abrupt shift halfway through the song that dips in and out of focus throughout the song; just Newsom and the harp would have been enough, but the changes make for something even better.
Sapokanikan is similar, initially opening with just a piano and Newsom’s singing, before drums are slowly added in, and halfway through additional harmonies and horns find their way into the track. The pitch of her voice slowly rises as the song nears its climax, before abruptly halting the increase and returning to a hushed murmur of a line and an instrumental outro. While hearing these songs evolve is a big part of the enjoyment found in the album, its calmer second half is also the most enjoyable.
One of the most enjoyable song features nothing but the harp and banjo alongside Newsom; Same Old Man is one of the more static songs, and also the shortest on the album, never changing itself as it continues save for some atmospheric buzzing near the end. However, it manages to be immensely enjoyable in its simplicity with its slight rustic feel thanks to the banjo. Closing track Time, As A Symptom is the only song that’s more enjoyable, beginning as a simple piano ballad before its second half brings in a veritable sea of strings and harmonies, completely drowning the song in their beautiful chaos.
Newsom’s trademark lyrics are intact as well, retaining all the references and hints her fans have come to love, though there’s far too much to say about them to fit it into one short review. They’re an integral part of the album though, and one that works with the powerful arrangements and Newsom’s distinct vocals to make something truly great. It’s a tighter version of her previous work, improving on the sprawling nature of Have One On Me and refining it to a much more condensed state. It’s not an album for everyone, but if her styling at all appeals to your tastes, Divers is well worth your time.