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The Milk-Eyed Mender was a striking debut that set Joanna Newsom apart from her indie folk contemporaries. Its simplicity and depth, and the way it sounded timeless and fresh, made her a singular figure in that scene. On her second album, Ys (pronounced "ease"), she continues to move in a very different direction than her peers, and even a different one than what her audience might expect. The Milk-Eyed Mender's 12 gentle vignettes sounded like they were basking in sunlight; Ys is epic, restless, and demanding, made up of five dazzling, shape-shifting songs that range from seven to 16 minutes long. Newsom embarks on this adventure of an album with help from talents as diverse as engineer Steve Albini, arranger Van Dyke Parks, and producer Jim O'Rourke (who, come to think of it, is the perfect meeting point between Albini and Parks). Ys' boldly intricate sound plays like an embellished, illuminated, expanded version of Newsom's previous work. Parks' lavish, but never intrusive, orchestral arrangements sometimes make the album feel -- in the best possible way -- like a Broadway musical based on The Milk-Eyed Mender, particularly on the album closer, "Cosmia." Crucially, though, Ys isn't any less "real" than Newsom's other music just because it's more polished. The nature and craft imagery in her lyrics, the transporting sense of wonder and the one-of-a-kind voice of The Milk-Eyed Mender are here too, just in a much more refined and ambitious form: Ys is a gilt-edged, bone china teacup to Mender's earthenware mug. All Music Guide

RIYL Fiona Apple, Sufjan Stevens, Vashti Bunyan 

Tracklisting:

1. Emily
2. Monkey & Bear
3. Sawdust & Diamonds
4. Only Skin
5. Cosmia