Joanna Newsom "Sapokanikan": First song from new album Divers, with music video by PT Anderson.

Hear Joanna Newsom’s New Song About the History of Manhattan, With a Video by PT Anderson

Hear Joanna Newsom’s New Song About the History of Manhattan, With a Video by PT Anderson

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Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 10 2015 1:49 PM

Hear Joanna Newsom’s New Song About the History of Manhattan, With a Video by PT Anderson

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Joanna Newsom, one of the most original songwriters, vocalists, and harpists of her generation, doesn’t release new recordings very often. It’s been more than five years since her masterpiece of a third album, Have One on Me, came out, and though she hasn’t been idle in the interim—she made her big-screen debut in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice last year—she’s only hinted at a new album in interviews and in live performances.

Until today, when record label Drag City announced that it will release Newsom’s new 11-track album, Divers, on Oct. 23. Even better, Newsom has released a music video for the second track from Divers, “Sapokanikan.” The title is a reference to the name given by Lenape Native Americans to the area of Manhattan currently known as the Meatpacking District. The piano backing and playful, lilting melody are reminiscent of “Soft as Chalk” from Have One on Me. Meanwhile, the typically cryptic lyrics pay tribute to the long history of New York City, with a focus on the native people who were displaced by European settlers. In the video, directed by Newsom’s Inherent Vice collaborator PT Anderson, Newsom skips mischievously through the bright, noisy Lower Manhattan of today, where no trace of the pre-colonial past remains. At the end, when Newsom makes a second reference to “Ozymandias” and repeats the phrase “Look and despair,” you can see her eyes well up with tears.

L.V. Anderson is a former Slate associate editor.