Music

Joanna Newsom - "Divers" (Singles Going Steady)

The title track from one of this year's best albums, Newsom begins "Divers" with a soothing oath that sounds like it could double as a hymn.

Brian Duricy: The title track from this year's best album, Newsom begins "Divers" with a soothing oath that sounds like it could double as a hymn. Spinning a tale of love distanced by both time and the physical span of the sea, it reaches its emotional crest with the gorgeous proclamation "A woman is alive, a woman is alive", evoking the climactic "I am the happiest woman among all women" from Ys's "Only Skin". Lyrically, she's as accessibly dense as ever, with layers happily lapping like waves that just invite you to dive in. And this is to say nothing of the music, which melds the harp with a backing xylophone and classical piano that offer up instrumental representations of the sea and land. [10/10]

Steve Horowitz: The sound of Newsom’s voice always inspires a laugh. This is good because it disarms conventional listening and makes the music warmer and more intimate. While Newsom is known for the literary nature of her lyrics, the sense of what she’s singing about gets lost in the tapestry of instruments so that only certain words like “love” and “night” make a deep impression. This is music to get lost in and bears repeated playback. The video itself is stunningly beautiful and allows Newsom to face front and center without seeming vain. She is part of the scenery and apart from the action; a goddess, a confidant, a cloud. Damn. [8/10]

Kevin Korber: I think I get what Joanna Newsom’s aiming at for years; “Divers” is complicated and wistful all at once. As with a lot of Newsom’s work, though, I can’t help but feel that this is complexity for its own sake. This is pop music as a museum piece, as something to be studied from afar and “appreciated” rather than loved. Doesn’t that, in turn, negate the purpose of pop music? Having said that, listening to “Divers” may make you appear to be really smart, presuming you can stay awake for all of it. [3/10]

John Garratt: I'm hearing a slight musical parallel to Peter Gabriel's "San Jacinto". The main difference is that this song doesn't go anywhere. And I still think her occasional goose honks are just a way for her to get attention. [4/10]

Paul Duffus: This is exquisite. Maybe it's the nautical theme, maybe it's the gentle sway created by the track's beautiful arrangement, but it reminds me of the more melodic moments on The Sea and The Bells, the classic album by Rachel’s. 'Divers' is that good. It's been a long time coming, but on this evidence Newsom’s new album will be an essential purchase just like all her others. [10/10]

The Cigarette: A Political History (By the Book)

Sarah Milov's The Cigarette restores politics to its rightful place in the tale of tobacco's rise and fall, illustrating America's continuing battles over corporate influence, individual responsibility, collective choice, and the scope of governmental power. Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 5. "Inventing the Nonsmoker".

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