I’m listening to Joanna Newsom’s album, Ys, for the third time today, and I’m still not sure what to make of it. It’s a heavily lyrical work, and lyrics have never been my strong suit. I can do things like automatically deduct points for use of the word “thee,” and add points for use of words like “inchoate” and “hydrocephalitic,” but I’m not really qualified to pass judgement on whether Newsom is a first-rank poet or an especially twee wood sprite.

Newsom’s voice is just as perplexing. Somewhere in between Billie Holliday and Björk, it quavers and leaps through the dense thickets that her lyrics form, at times cracking horribly in a way that makes me worry that she’ll have completely lost her voice ten years from now. Those cracks, though, act like perfectly-timed punctuation, like little explosions that propel her songs forward.

“Songs” is probably the wrong word for the five tracks on Ys. Ranging from seven to 17 minutes long, the tracks — movements? chapters? — never seem to drag, even to an impatient listener like myself. It’s partly because Newsom’s wandering lyrics avoid falling into a verse-chorus-verse-chorus rut, and partly because of the way in which she subtly shifts tempos and times, simultaneously threatening to leave the listener behind and carrying him or her along.

The propulsive quality of the album is also helped by the all-star production team Newsom works with on Ys. Van Dyke Parks arranges her backing orchestra, at times enveloping her in lush strings, or poking her with banjo and mouth harp, or just letting her voice and her classical harp speak for themselves. Steve Albini’s recording brings out the best in the harp, drying it out in order to give it a strong edge, avoiding the cloudy, new-agey smudges you expect from the instrument. Jim O’Rourke mixes the whole thing together, letting all the parts be heard clearly while making sure your attention never wavers from the singer’s voice.

So even though I can make neither head nor tail of the lyrics, and even though the harp should have put me to sleep halfway through the first playing, I think I’m falling in love with this album.