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Historically, the music of Joanna Newsom doesn't fit in an urban setting. The narratives take place near streams, in forests, and oftentimes, up in the cosmos. Even when her words make their way toward specific settings in history, it still sounds as if the city that we're suddenly in is another part of her imagination. 'Sapokanikan' and 'Leaving the City' share these elements. Their appearance here, five years after Have One On Me, act as a gift that Newsom delivers to our lives that suddenly become prettier and more whimsical than an overcast sky would have it. To open Divers with 'Anecdotes' is another kind offering, letting longtime listeners, after a decade now of coddling speakers to hear her sentiments, know that Newsom lives in the big city now, but has hardly forgotten her backwoods origins.

But, on many places throughout Divers, we're no longer in the woods. We're in a history that's either the real and impossibly studied one of New York on 'Sapokanikan' or the invented one on 'Waltz of the 101st Lightborne'. On the former, you can ignore Newsom's literacy and just enjoy the arrangement that unravels. The inverse is applicable on the teasing 'The Things I Say', where the simple harp and voice serve as a backdrop for the vocals which transition beautifully from her signature honk and squeak and into the more sustained territory we heard on Ys. Divers consistently reconciles itself like this. If there are moments that are overstuffed and cosmically mysterious, there are also tracks like 'Same Old Man' that remind us that life and music can be simple and forgiving; a single-note synth line magically proves less than foreboding, and Newsom references a dying leaf that she wishes would turn back to green. Funnily enough, it's the only song here not written by her (Mark Lanegan and Karen Dalton have recorded versions), a difficult concept to grasp given the record's unflinching coherence.

This coherence is anything but linear. Newsom plucks her stories from an amorphous timeline like Slaughterhouse Five, where different elements of the narrative could return at any point. 'Waltz of the 101st Lightborne' comes off as one of her cute stories, but reveals itself as a science fiction story and wartime fable all at once. There's a lover that returns as "pale as millennial moods," but it's only a couple of minutes later where Newsom is suddenly discussing the earth cascading through space in an infinite regress. In light of this existential confusion, there's little lives like her own, requesting only what they deserve on 'Leaving the City': "And that is all that I want here/to draw my gaunt spirit to bow/beneath what I am allowed." There aren't many moments as calming as the pure acceptance of one's place in the universe.

If she's not impeccably detailing stories to her lover on the migratory 'Goose Eggs', Newsom's delivering platitudes about the passage of time. Though she reveres the abstraction of it, she still believes in time as merely a way by which we measure love: "What's redacted will repeat/and you cannot learn that you burn when you touch the heat/so we touch the heat/and we cut facsimiles of life and death." Death is lighter borne on the ears amidst so many treble voices in the music, which have however impossibly become richer than anything in her past. On the title-track, each piece of the band comes in slowly throughout four verses and seven minutes. Lyrically, she brings little pieces of Divers into the story. Birth, love, physical law, and the puzzling element of diving all coalesce into a luminous force that connects the piano string to her experience with a lover to the harp and back to Newsom's tale again. She kindly places the weight of this track in between two pieces of stylistic ease embedded in 'The Things I Say' and 'Same Old Man', where the good friend she portrayed on The Milk-Eyed Mender returns to observe her surroundings. On other Divers cuts, she's attained a sage status that still indelibly lives among us - a complicated being that comes down to earth to speak to us.

It's after the title track trio where the density of Newsom's subjects are the most impending. 'A Pin-Light Bent' attributes an intense drama to the mere idea of light entering a chamber to produce a photograph. Upon inspecting the lyrics, it's apparent that it's not just a piece of time being poured over, but an inspection of the fragility of life in the face of a moment's insignificance; and what her place in the world could possibly mean to it.

Incidentally, it means quite a bit on closer 'Time, As A Symptom'. Newsom is here in her place in the universe in order to describe the connections between cosmic meaning and personal experience with love. There are far too many elements at play to boil Divers down to less than that, so her mission casually retains this level of broadness. This is an album that is constantly unfolding over its themes, so the only option remaining is that of acceptance of her ingenuity. If you want to make it easy, you can acknowledge the density and move on. If you want to understand the core of the record, you'll have plenty of details to work through for what now seems like forever. Forever is discussed in the rebirth of 'Anecdotes', after all. It may be the first track here, but it's also another key to Newsom's infinite nature that repeats as soon as 'Time, As A Symptom' reveals its last lyric as another transition from the city to the stars and back again: 'Transmit/transcend/trans-'. Fill in the blank as you choose.

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