Why Is Joanna Newsom’s New Album A Secret?

Photo by David Greenwald

There will be a new Joanna Newsom album in 2010. Of this, it’s nearly impossible to have any doubt. Ys was released all the way back in 2006; live recordings of new material appeared as far back as “Esame” in September 2007; in March 2009, she played a reported sprawling two-and-a-half hour set of new material. Per Stereogum, W magazine reported that a new album has been recorded, while according to Vogue, she held recording sessions in Tokyo as late as August. (Jim O’Rourke, Ys mixer and genius-about-town, lives in Japan, and we can only hope that implies his involvement.)

And this week, she announced the first portion of a North American tour — nine dates, nothing to scoff at — following a full tour of New Zealand and Australia as well as some Japanese dates. In other words, she’s spending the first three months of the year touring, with the spring and summer wide open for a broader tour or festival dates (Coachella, perhaps?). For an album, no doubt, but one with no name or release date or official existence.

But why the secrecy?

Well, Drag City, for one. Her label eschews a lot of the press cycle, especially digital campaigns. Jim O’Rourke’s The Visitor was under wraps for a while. But in this case, they have a good reason to be gun-shy.

You may remember the way Ys arrived on the Internet: It was leaked on private Bittorrent site IndieTorrents by a user who alleged he’d poached it from Pitchfork’s secret — but unguarded — staff media server. During the brief moments the server was open before the staff realized the error and closed it off, I took a look — Ys was there, as well as most of 2006’s notable releases and an embarrassingly large Fiery Furnaces bootlegs folder. Ys received a 9.4 from Pitchfork later that year; the score was deserved, dubious surrounding circumstances aside, and the matter was swept under the rug. But the sting of embarrassment from all parties, I can only assume, has yet to fade — and with that in mind, we’re left with no word on the next move of one of today’s most captivating artists. Let’s hope the secret’s out soon enough.