It is altogether too easy for albums like Joanna Newsom’s The Milk-Eyed Mender to fall through the cracks and into obscurity. There is little effort to please. Her fragile, child-like voice is a singular medium of expression. So too is her harp, played eloquently at every moment. The real achievement though is her songwriting. She is amazing. Each song is so fully developed, with an openness that belies the precision one could find on close inspection. Her music swathes you like a worn blanket and fills you with warmth — precious obscurity.
Much can be praised in the album’s gently meandering collection of songs. “Sadie” is a mellow ballad, which would seem to be about a dog. Long, sustained notes from Newsom’s harp add to the genuineness of the songwriting. She deeply appreciates the importance of conventionally “small” events. There is deep conviction implicit in her music. “Sadie” has the richness of sincere personal experience. It is broken-in. “Inflammatory Writ” pairs Newsom with a piano. Her lyrics are vibrant. They are funny as well. Still, they hold an interest throughout in her oblique observational comments, like declaring that you “take no jam on your bread”. The pounding lilt of the piano draws out the jumps and breaks in Newsom’s voice. Then “Peach, Plum, Pear” has a harpsichord to constantly shift the texture of the sounds. The song takes more of a prodding tone than the others.
The Milk-Eyed Mender is a smooth album that wants for nothing. Joanna Newsom conveys contentment like no other in music. She twinkles with independence, and turns that energy to a love of family, friends, pets, afternoon naps, curios, and snacks. The Milk-Eyed Mender is cast as a kind of timeless wealth. And her songwriting only got better from here.