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(4 Stars)

Joanna Newsom is only 24, but her sophomore effort could quite possibly be the most ambitious indie record of the year. Beyond being a highly anticipated release, Ys has already garnered quite a bit of Internet buzz, due to the fact that the album was leaked to the "online community" from an unsecured Pitchfork Media server more than three months before the scheduled release date (a story Pitchfork neglected to report on.)

But what really distinguishes Ys from 2004's The Milk-Eyed Mender, is the track length. With five tracks in total -- three approaching the 10-minute mark, two tracks surpassing it -- this is not a commercially geared release. The songs are dense, require repeated listening, and aren't going to be for everyone.

The string arrangements of Van Dyke Parks add a new element to Newsom's weaving narratives that some will love and some will hate. It shouldn't hurt, though, that Ys was recorded by beloved populist producer Steve Albini.


DOWNLOAD: "Cosmia"


Ben Kweller

(2 Stars)

A self-titled release? Strange that after two fairly successful albums launched him into indie stardom, Kweller would revert to taxonomy normally reserved for debuts. Even stranger: This sounds more like a debut album than the work of a seasoned pro.

Kweller fans are no strangers to the 24-year-old's diary-esque celebrations and lamentations over love and life. But on Ben Kweller, he comes across even more plainly than usual, with plenty of songs about being worn out, in love, looking for something, etc. He's too plain, though. Kweller's never been a top-tier songwriter, but this record shows an absence of those catchy, off-beat-lines that were woven into previous efforts. It has an overabundance of over-broad, say-nothing throw-away lyrics ("I wait and I wait / For something good, for something great"). Come on.

Kweller ditched his usual band and played everything himself on this. The idea, apparently, was to get back to a truer form of his self. But if this bland work is his truer self, I may be less of a Kweller fan than I thought I was.


DOWNLOAD: "This Is War"
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