joanna newsom – time, as a symptom (2015)

Time passed hard,
and the task was the hardest thing she’d ever do.
But she forgot,
the moment she saw you.

So it would seem to be true:
when cruel birth debases, we forget.
When cruel death debases,
we believe it erases all the rest
that precedes.

But stand brave, life-liver,
bleeding out your days
in the river of time.
Stand brave:
time moves both ways,

in the nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating
joy of life;
the nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating
joy of life.

The moment of your greatest joy sustains:
not axe nor hammer,
tumor, tremor,
can take it away, and it remains.
It remains.

And it pains me to say, I was wrong.
Love is not a symptom of time.
Time is just a symptom of love

(and the nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating
joy of life;
the nullifying, defeating, negating, repeating
joy of life).

Hardly seen, hardly felt–
deep down where your fight is waiting,
down ’till the light in your eyes is fading:
joy of life.
Where i know that you can yield, when it comes down to it;
bow like the field when the wind combs through it:
joy of life.
And every little gust that chances through
will dance in the dust of me and you,
with joy-of-life.
And in our perfect secret-keeping:
One ear of corn,
in silent, reaping
joy of life.

Joy! Again, around–a pause, a sound–a song:
a way a lone a last a loved a long.
A cave, a grave, a day: arise, ascend.
(Areion, Rharian, go free and graze. Amen.)

A shore, a tide, unmoored–a sight, abroad:
A dawn, unmarked, undone, undarked (a god).
No time. No flock. No chime, no clock. No end.
White star, white ship–Nightjar, transmit: transcend!

White star, white ship–Nightjar, transmit: transcend!
White star, white ship–Nightjar, transmit: transcend!
White star, white ship–Nightjar, transmit: trans

Much has been made, in almost all recent profiles and in earlier reviews, of the optimistically transcendent cyclicality of the “final” gesture on Newsom’s exquisite new album, Divers — her first in five years. But gauging the (potentially inconclusive) philosophical conclusion — one that could also be wholly cynical — of Divers really comes down to how the listener decides to experience its last song, “Time, as a Symptom.”

The album’s ending is not unlike the “Isn’t this where we came in?” conclusion/introduction to Pink Floyd’s The Wall, except even more abrupt, given that Newsom cuts herself off in the middle of a single word. The word in question — “transcending” — wraps around at the start of the album’s first song.

Set your iTunes to loop and it’ll join the album’s hanging final prefix, “trans—” and opening word, “sending.” It’ll likewise connect the similar sylvan soundbites underscoring these two moments (varied birdcalls and the technicolor fog of the album’s cover rendered in sound), joining the first and last tracks in a form of rebirth in a way that, as NPR put it, “lift[s] the spirit aloft.” Listen to it on vinyl and you may hear how “trans” and “sending” attempt, now perhaps futilely, to reach back and forth through your own memory of the opening of the album, to connect. Listen to the song on its own on, say, YouTube, and the end is an almost violent death of a close, cutting off the singer’s last command, “transcend,” as though she’s vocalizing her own — and everyone else’s own — fatal failure to do so. Like most of Newsom’s music, she leaves the meaning of the album’s culmination — and the light or despairing shadow it casts on the rest of it — ambiguous.

Throughout the album, Newsom appears rigorously aware, on both minute and cosmic scales, of the shifting ontological implications of our times, as well as their potential fallacy, and the possibility that some factors of human life — like altering time’s tyranny over it — may never truly change. The current human experience is underscored by new polarities of doom and transcendent life: possibilities of immortality via “the Singularity” versus imminent death via global warming, particle colliders showing us how space-time can be bent versus particle colliders destroying us, the Internet as the birth of a more universalist world versus the Internet as the death of the physical world. Even more than artists who’ve been lauded for eliciting the emotional spectra of humans who’ve melded with machines, Newsom has, with her bounty of antiquated instruments, made an album that unquestionably sounds like today…

Divers is a monumental album in which monuments are brought up for their proneness to crumble, their inability to remain beyond their — as a line in “Waltz of the 101st Lightborne” goes — “great simulacreage.” But it wonders, with the ultimate inconclusiveness of that last line, if the physical/temporal restraints on the human condition could shift. In “Sapokanikan,” Newsom sings that “the causes we die for are lost in the idling bird call.” And so perhaps it’s best to say that there’s both victory and despair, existing as parallel possibilities, when the album ends with either a death or a transcendence, underscored by birdcalls — the indifferent, (and especially as Jonathan Franzen likes to point out, also fleeting) presences that are left. The question it leaves open — as it simultaneously creates a tragic death and a transcendent bridge — is one that makes Divers one of the affecting reflections of our philosophical, scientific and emotional moment recently made into an album.

Read the rest of this review at Flavorwire.

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