Brow Beat

Listen to a Challenging but Rewarding New Track From Joanna Newsom’s Forthcoming Album

Joanna Newsom has a reputation for being a challenging artist whose songs reward repeated listens instead of providing instant gratification. This is not true across the board—the first track shared from her forthcoming Divers, “Sapokanikan,” was downright hummable, in spite of the hard-to-pronounce title. But the second track available to stream from Divers, “Leaving the City,” is a formidable composition, with complicated, dissonant instrumental backing and a repetitive, almost shrill vocal motif.

Yet as always with Newsom, there’s more here than initially meets the ear. Once you find an element to grab onto—be it the lush bucolic imagery of the lyrics, the transcendent harp line floating over the brassy cacophony of mellotron chords, or the quiet emotion in Newsom’s delivery of lines like “I believe in you/ Do you believe in me?”—“Leaving the City” reveals itself as a sad, desperate meditation on trying to breach the confines of the life one is born into. This may never become a fan favorite, but it’s more proof that Newsom is a one-of-a-kind songwriter: No other musician on earth could have produced a song quite as intricate and mysterious as “Leaving the City.”