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Thread: SOTW: EMILY!

  1. #1
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    SOTW: EMILY!

    The Annotated Emily


    I'm a very new Joanna fan-- I have always admired her lyrics-- Sawdust and Diamonds, and the closing stanzas of Cosima, specifically-- but didn't get into actually listening to her songs until a couple months back. And what got me to listen were the lyrics to Emily. I'm an amateur astronomer, and the STELLAR references to constellations and the nocturnal imagery and the impeccable rhyme scheme (which I'll discuss below) were all extremely inspiring, and before long I downloaded Ys and gave it a spin. To be honest, though, I have only gotten into three of the songs-- Emily, Sawdust and Diamonds and Cosmia-- but I'm sure I'll come around to the other two.

    Now, Emily: as you can see, I am mainly interested in speaking about the structure of the song. The themes I won't discuss as much because they are incredibly personal to me, and also saying "this song teaches me about the meaning of life" totally diminishes the impact. You can see from my little annotation that the rhyme scheme is extremely complex-- but it is EVEN MORE complex than that because I disregarded internal rhyme and focused only on end rhymes. The rhyme scheme goes up to the letter "r" but it never feels disjointed and sprawling because the internal rhymes connect the whole thing together. For example, my favorite instance:

    Squint skyward and listen:
    Loving him we move within his borders,
    Just asterisms in the sky's set order.

    Obviously "border and order" rhyme, but so does the last word of the first line ("listen") and the SECOND word of the third line ("asterism"). Even though they're not whole rhymes, the syllabic similarities in the two are close enough for the ear to detect the sound. Listing ALL of these intricacies would yield a 20-page paper, but these internal patterns are what keep the rhyme scheme ordered and propel the words forward by linking each line with one preceding it, which itself is linked to a preceding line either by rhyme or by recurring imagery.

    And I pointed out some of the recurring imagery in the annotation. I was particularly impressed by all the allusions to the stars; and I thought that I was perhaps reading too much into those. But then I read somewhere that her sister is an astrophysicist. And because this song is about her sister, and one of the recurring images is the Pleiades star cluster-- stars that are sister stars, both literally (they were all born in the same star cloud) and through star lore (Wikipedia link) I believe that the references are totally intentional.

    That's all I have to say for now. Oh, and this: that last stanza is some of the best lyrics ever written. It's total poetry!

    POST ABOUT EMILY!

  2. #2
    That's so Shakespearean... Canoodlefish's Avatar
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    I loved the live version when she sang "The whole world stopped" and the orchestra literally did so.

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    Oh! I totally forgot to talk about the weird key. An expert will have to confirm this (you, booby), but the song seems to be atonal almost, with lots of chromatic key changes-- for example, after the "mouth of the south below" it seems to me like there's a discordant key change. But I can't play by ear at all, and I might be totally wrong.

  4. #4
    Senior Member Hannah.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kari View Post
    Emily seems to be a Joanna Newsom gateway drug.
    For sure. I got The Milk-Eyed Mender before Ys, and while I enjoyed MEM immensely, it didn't blow me away (although it does now). However, as soon as I heard Emily, it was like I was hit by a hurricane! It's one of those magical songs that grows more beautiful with every listen. I cry every time I hear it.

  5. #5
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    Structurally it's not overly complex, and is in three big sections which are basically made up of the same three building blocks. [A - B - C] let's call them.

    The first section introduces all three blocks:
    A: from the start to "in the mouth of the south below". Chords are roughly [Cm7 - Gm - F - Cm] for this entire section.
    B: from "we've seen those mountains..." to "from the place where I've been" - key change to Am (ish - with that snazzy alternation between G# and G in there hinting at the melodic and harmonic minors). I love the chord progression in this section so much, and I love how it just starts straight away on that G#/Aflat chord, and resolves at the end of the line [G#- C - G - Am]. It creates a lovely musical tension in those sections. The little instrumental change at the end really ramps up the drama to change into the third key and third block:
    C: from "and Emily - I saw you last night" to "set them to verse so I'd always remember" - mostly around Em ish.
    C1: the meteorite stanza. Rather muted the first time we hear it. It's the same chord progression as the C section, but kinda differently laid out. [if the C section is 1-1-2-2, then the C1 section is 1-2-1-2, if you get me, where 1 and 2 are little chord progressions that make up the section.]

    The second section repeats these three blocks again, the only major change is in the C section, which we get three times, and no C1 [meteorite bit].

    The third section starts off the same, but the B block is extended upon for that great finish - the chords from the last two lines are played over and over as the vocal melody changes slightly and plays around a lot with the phrasing beautifully, and brings us into the return of C1 again skipping over any iterations of the regular C block of music.

    However, this time the chord progression in this section is the one from the A block, which gives that different feel to it, although it's the same melody pretty much, but in a different key, and over a different chord progression. Yet it closes off the song rather wonderfully and gives a sense of unification to the whole song. You'd never think the last four lines are sung to the same chords as the opening would you?

    She seems to like defining her sections with really distinctly different keys and repeated chord progressions. I mean, that progression in the A block is repeated 8 times. But, I wonder if the music changes are triggered by the lyrics? Can you segment the lyrics into sections that fit the musical ones, or is it just not as cut and dry as that, lyrically?


    * note: apologies if this is going over people's heads - I know it's probably easier to chat about lyrics than it is to chat about music, but I'm trying to relate the two together and see if there are parallels or if the musical structure throws any light on the way the lyrics are structured, or something. Also, I'm a music nerd and I love the expanded forms she uses on this record in particular.

  6. #6
    They took the gay right out of me. Buelis's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kari View Post
    Emily seems to be a Joanna Newsom gateway drug.
    Oddly enough, 'Emily' took me a long while to get into but eventually became my favourite song of hers. I always enjoyed the melodies and appreciated the song, but it took listening to it on the train ride to Prague for it to really sink in. Having it as the soundtrack to all the lush scenery passing by was breathtaking.

  7. #7
    That's so Shakespearean... Canoodlefish's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ebby View Post
    * note: apologies if this is going over people's heads - I know it's probably easier to chat about lyrics than it is to chat about music, but I'm trying to relate the two together and see if there are parallels or if the musical structure throws any light on the way the lyrics are structured, or something. Also, I'm a music nerd and I love the expanded forms she uses on this record in particular.
    Keep it coming, brother! Lay bare the unity of form and content, for isn't it of such thing that aesthetic pleasure is made?

    I still have yet to fully comprehend your Only Skin analysis, but I think I'm not putting in enough effort for someone with no formal musical training.

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    Quote Originally Posted by THE HOBBIT SHAMER View Post
    ...But then I read somewhere that her sister is an astrophysicist....
    Really?! Her parents really did something right.

  9. #9
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quentcomp View Post
    Keep it coming, brother! Lay bare the unity of form and content, for isn't it of such thing that aesthetic pleasure is made?

    I still have yet to fully comprehend your Only Skin analysis, but I think I'm not putting in enough effort for someone with no formal musical training.

    That's what I fear - that I'm not writing about it simply enough in language that makes sense. I think I'll do a diagram for Only Skin.

  10. #10
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by quentcomp View Post
    Keep it coming, brother! Lay bare the unity of form and content, for isn't it of such thing that aesthetic pleasure is made?

    I still have yet to fully comprehend your Only Skin analysis, but I think I'm not putting in enough effort for someone with no formal musical training.

    That's what I fear - that I'm not writing about it simply enough in language that makes sense. I think I'll do a diagram for Only Skin.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by ebby View Post
    Structurally it's not overly complex, and is in three big sections which are basically made up of the same three building blocks. [A - B - C] let's call them.

    The first section introduces all three blocks:
    A: from the start to "in the mouth of the south below". Chords are roughly [Cm7 - Gm - F - Cm] for this entire section.
    B: from "we've seen those mountains..." to "from the place where I've been" - key change to Am (ish - with that snazzy alternation between G# and G in there hinting at the melodic and harmonic minors). I love the chord progression in this section so much, and I love how it just starts straight away on that G#/Aflat chord, and resolves at the end of the line [G#- C - G - Am]. It creates a lovely musical tension in those sections. The little instrumental change at the end really ramps up the drama to change into the third key and third block:
    C: from "and Emily - I saw you last night" to "set them to verse so I'd always remember" - mostly around Em ish.
    C1: the meteorite stanza. Rather muted the first time we hear it. It's the same chord progression as the C section, but kinda differently laid out. [if the C section is 1-1-2-2, then the C1 section is 1-2-1-2, if you get me, where 1 and 2 are little chord progressions that make up the section.]

    The second section repeats these three blocks again, the only major change is in the C section, which we get three times, and no C1 [meteorite bit].

    The third section starts off the same, but the B block is extended upon for that great finish - the chords from the last two lines are played over and over as the vocal melody changes slightly and plays around a lot with the phrasing beautifully, and brings us into the return of C1 again skipping over any iterations of the regular C block of music.

    However, this time the chord progression in this section is the one from the A block, which gives that different feel to it, although it's the same melody pretty much, but in a different key, and over a different chord progression. Yet it closes off the song rather wonderfully and gives a sense of unification to the whole song. You'd never think the last four lines are sung to the same chords as the opening would you?

    She seems to like defining her sections with really distinctly different keys and repeated chord progressions. I mean, that progression in the A block is repeated 8 times. But, I wonder if the music changes are triggered by the lyrics? Can you segment the lyrics into sections that fit the musical ones, or is it just not as cut and dry as that, lyrically?


    * note: apologies if this is going over people's heads - I know it's probably easier to chat about lyrics than it is to chat about music, but I'm trying to relate the two together and see if there are parallels or if the musical structure throws any light on the way the lyrics are structured, or something. Also, I'm a music nerd and I love the expanded forms she uses on this record in particular.
    This is awesome! Thanks! I'm going to listen tonight and see if I can sync the changes to the words.

    I still don't know why it sounds foggily dissonant to me, though. Are the strings in the same key? Or do I just have bad ears?

  12. #12
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    Oh, the chords are simplistic really. But there are definite dissonances with that G# for example, and the vocal melody not quite matching up to the chord structure on the harp. and the strings really playing around with things too.

  13. #13
    Senior Member HumptyDumpty's Avatar
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    Emily was the first Joanna song I heard, and it's definitely what made me want to hear more. Those first few opening lines are just engraved in my soul. Maybe that sounds silly, but I don't know how else to put it. When I think about Joanna, I immediately think of:

    The meadowlark and the chim-choo-ree and the sparrow
    Set to the sky in a flying spree, for the sport of the pharaoh
    A little while later the Pharisees dragged a comb through the meadow
    Do you remember what they called up to you and me, in our window?


    I just love that. The way she sings them. One of the most beautiful things set to record.

  14. #14
    Lyrical acuity and mum-smarts menju56's Avatar
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    Same, whenever I think of Joanna Newsom that is exactly the verse I always hear in my head. I also think it is one of the best and most inspired openings to a record I've heard.

    Also, the melodic change into the "helps me find my way back in..." part is one of the most beautiful things she's done. It's definitely right up there with my favourite of her songs.

  15. #15
    condemned to wires and hammers ebby's Avatar
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    I love all the hidden constellation/star references in the song too, and thank you Mancy for pointing them out.

    Also, this:

    We could stand for a century
    Staring
    With our heads cocked
    In the broad daylight at this thing
    Joy
    Landlocked
    In bodies that don't keep
    Dumbstruck with the sweetness of being
    Until we don't be told
    Take this
    Eat this
    Last edited by ebby; 05-11-2011 at 07:28 PM.

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