Studio album by
ReleasedNovember 14, 2006 (2006-11-14)
RecordedDecember 2005–June 2006
StudioThe Village Recording Studio and Entoorage Studios in Los Angeles, California
LabelDrag City
Joanna Newsom chronology
The Milk-Eyed Mender
Have One on Me

Ys (/ˈs/ EESS) is the second studio album by American musician Joanna Newsom. It was released by Drag City on November 14, 2006. The album was produced by Newsom and Van Dyke Parks, recorded by Steve Albini, mixed by Jim O'Rourke, with accompanying orchestral arrangements by Van Dyke Parks. It features guest vocals from Bill Callahan and Emily Newsom. The vocals and harp were recorded at The Village Recording Studio in Los Angeles in December 2005, with the orchestration being recorded between May and June 2006 at the Entourage Studios in Los Angeles.[5]

The album consists of five tracks with song durations ranging from 7 to 17 minutes that deal with events and people who had been important in Newsom's life in the year previous to recording. These events include the sudden death of Newsom's best friend, a continuing illness and a tumultuous relationship.[6] The album was named after the city of Ys, which according to myth was built on the coast of Brittany and later swallowed by the ocean. The album's title was the last element to be confirmed and was a result of a dream that Joanna had which featured the letters Y and S and a book recommended by a friend that contained reference to the myth.[6] Newsom grew up near Yuba and Sutter counties in California, an area which is commonly abbreviated as “YS” for “Yuba-Sutter”, which may have additionally inspired the title.

Ys received acclaim. It was Newsom's first album to chart in the Billboard 200, where it peaked at number 134, and charted in the United Kingdom, France, Norway and Ireland. It has featured on several music publications' lists of the greatest albums.


The album features full orchestra arrangements by Van Dyke Parks on four of the five tracks. Parks also contributes accordion. Newsom's harp and vocals were recorded by Steve Albini and the orchestra was recorded by Tim Boyle. Newsom and Parks produced the album and it was mixed by Jim O'Rourke. The recording process was completely analog, on two 24-track tape recorders. The music was mixed to tape and mastered at Abbey Road Studios.[7]

Bass guitar is contributed by Lee Sklar, and electric guitar by jazz guitarist Grant Geissman. Don Heffington played percussion and Matt Cartsonis played mandolin and banjo. Bill Callahan provides backing vocals on the song "Only Skin", while on "Emily", these are sung by Joanna's sister, Emily Newsom, after whom the song is named.

The album, particularly the length of the songs and orchestral arrangements, was partially inspired by the 1971 Roy Harper album Stormcock.[8] In September 2007, Harper supported Joanna Newsom at her Royal Albert Hall performance, playing Stormcock in its entirety. Newsom was also impressed by Van Dyke Parks' 1968 album Song Cycle, and asked him to collaborate on Ys after listening to that record.[6]

On her fall 2007 tour, Newsom performed the album in its entirety, backed by a 29-piece orchestra.[9]


Professional ratings
Aggregate scores
Review scores
Entertainment WeeklyB+[12]
The Guardian[13]
The Independent[14]
MSN Music (Consumer Guide)C+[15]
Rolling Stone[18]

Following its release in November 2006, Ys received widespread critical acclaim. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 85, indicating "universal acclaim".[10] Chris Dahlen of Pitchfork called Ys "great because Newsom confronts a mountain of conflicting feelings, and sifts through them for every nuance".[17] Describing it as "incredibly likeable, and more convivial than the twee Milk Eyed Mender", Jimmy Newlin of Slant Magazine dubbed Ys "a precious—in every sense of the word—masterpiece".[20] Uncut's John Mulvey felt that though its "vast scale" opens up the potential for "self-indulgence" and "prog folly", upon listening to the record "all the doubts evaporate. Every elaboration has a purpose, every labyrinthine melodic detour feels necessary rather than contrived."[3] Heather Phares of AllMusic described Ys as "a demanding listen, but it's also a rewarding and inspiring one",[11] while Alexis Petridis of The Guardian concluded that the album is a "hard sell, perhaps, but it could be the best musical investment you make all year".[13]

Pat Long of NME wrote that Newsom "has managed to lessen the twee factor of her last record, in the process crafting an album as bewitching as it is odd."[16] Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly felt that Newsom "remains an acquired taste", but that Van Dyke Parks' contributions and the album's orchestration "have an ameliorating effect on the too-precious warble that either bewitches or repels."[12] The Independent's Andy Gill wrote that Ys "leaves one in no doubt of her oddball credentials" and "rarely, if ever, has an artist so assiduously cultivated cult status".[14] Among negative assessments, Rolling Stone critic Christian Hoard called the album "hard to stomach" and plagued by overlong tracks "with meandering strings-and-things accompaniment and indulgent vocal quirks that make Björk sound like Kelly Clarkson."[18] Robert Christgau, in his Consumer Guide column for MSN Music, wrote that much of the "sprightly" qualities of The Milk-Eyed Mender had been "subsumed here by ambition, to be kind, and privilege, to be brutally accurate", and that the album's songs "reveal only that her taste for the antique is out of control".[15]

Ys became Newsom's first album to chart in the United States, peaking at number 134 on the Billboard 200.[21] The album was later nominated for a 2007 Shortlist Music Prize.[22] As of March 2010, Ys has sold more than 250,000 copies.[23]


By the end of 2006 Ys appeared in more than 50 year-end lists, placing inside the top 10 in 35 of them,[24] including a #1 ranking in Tiny Mix Tapes' Top 25 Albums of 2006,[25] and CHARTbeat's Top 100 Albums of 2006 [26] a #3 ranking on Pitchfork's Top 50 Albums of 2006,[27] and a #7 ranking Time magazine's 10 Best Albums of 2006. Despite a negative review by the US Rolling Stone,[28] the German version of the magazine named the album the second greatest of the year.[29] According to Acclaimedmusic.net Ys is the third best album of 2006,[30] and the 27th greatest record released that decade[31] and the 271st greatest of all-time.[31] The album was also included in the book 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die.[32]

In 2009, the album started to appear in many "best of the decade" lists. Pitchfork named Ys the 83rd greatest album of the 2000s. Calling Newsom "unlike anyone else" aside calling the album "the most artistically ambitious indie rock enterprise of the decade"[33] Ys is one of two Joanna Newsom albums placed inside the top 100, the other being The Milk-Eyed Mender.[34] UK magazine Uncut placed the album inside their "150 greatest album of the decade" list, at number 21. Gigwise named Ys the 32nd greatest album of the 2000s commenting that "the record rightly received blanket acclaim upon its initial release and is already sounding better with age. Whether she'll ever top this new-folk masterpiece remains to be seen."[35] The Times placed the album at number 26 in their top 100 albums of the decade list,[36] while The Guardian named it one of the '1000 Albums To Hear Before You Die'.[37] British magazine Clash placed Ys at number 13 in their '50 Greatest Albums Of Our Lifetime' list.[38] German magazine Musikexpress named Ys the 92nd greatest album of the last four decades (1969–2009).[39] Two Spanish magazines, Playground and Rock de Lux, have respectively named Ys their 83rd and 15th greatest album of the 2000s.[40][41] About placed Ys at number one inside their greatest album of the decade list.[42] In 2010, Tiny Mix Tapes named the album the 18th greatest of the 2000s and Cokemachineglow.com the 81st.[43][44] Rhapsody named it the 46th best album of the 2000s (decade).[45]

In 2020, Daniel Radcliffe selected the song "Emily" as one of his choices for the BBC Radio 4 program Desert Island Discs, describing Newsom as an artist "who gets weirder and more wonderful and more imaginative every time she comes back."[46]

End of year

End of decade


Track listing

All tracks are written by Joanna Newsom.

2."Monkey & Bear"9:29
3."Sawdust & Diamonds"9:54
4."Only Skin"16:53
Total length:55:38




Chart (2006) Peak
Belgian Albums (Ultratop Flanders)[65] 71
French Albums (SNEP)[66] 168
German Albums (Offizielle Top 100)[67] 98
Irish Albums (IRMA)[68] 50
Norwegian Albums (VG-lista)[69] 29
UK Albums (OCC)[70] 41
US Billboard 200[21] 134
US Heatseekers Albums (Billboard)[71] 1
US Independent Albums (Billboard)[72] 5


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