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Thursday, September 20, 2007

PJ HARVEY - "White Chalk" 89%

PJ HARVEY's eighth studio album "White Chalk" will be released on October 2nd and it is a record to cherish, not to mention own a physical copy of. At first listen, I found myself mumbling "What the fuck?!" and turned it off in the middle of the second song. It is so quiet, so delicate, I felt abandoned. Where were the guitars? Where were the aching howls? What about the dominatrix vixen who was always prepared to remind you that "You come and mess with me, I'm fifty inches long!"? There is none of that here. This is the kind of music that requires effort from the listener. And as a devoted PJ fan there was no way in hell I was gonna leave it alone. So I decided I needed to listen to the album in its entirety on my headphones, late at night, a little bit drunk. It was then that I discovered the beauty of "White Chalk". It is deep, dark, sorrowful, depressing, and complexly gorgeous.

Looking back on the more recent PJ Harvey albums, this is quite the departure. On the 2000 release "Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea", Harvey found her pop moment, creating the most solidly structured and thoroughly accessible collection of songs in her career. The 2004 follow-up "Uh-Huh Her" was more loose and uneven, but found its solidity in its erraticness. But "White Chalk", more closely resembling moments on the 1998 release "Is This Desire?", sounds as if it could have been recorded as one long, piano-driven diatribe with select key moments of variation and height. On the title track, a banjo takes the driver's seat to great effect. 'Broken Harp' uses subtle horns that sound like they could have been used on a BEIRUT track. And as always, there are the startling, almost horrific lyrics that have become a PJ trademark. Most notably this can be found on the opening verse of 'The Piano'..."Hit her with a hammer, teeth smashed in; red tongue's twitching, look inside her skeleton". These are not happy times for Harvey, but the listener only stands to gain as a result.

What is so gripping about PJ's work, is the truth to form and structure. Ms. Harvey is a phenomenally skilled writer. Even the simplest of her songs are so layered, full with imagery, honesty, and power. And here, it takes a few careful listens to see it. Though, I wouldn't suggest actually falling asleep to the album, as the final track 'The Mountain', a lush and driving ballad, finds PJ building into a piercing, desperate wail that could wake the dogs a mile away.

You can pre-order "White Chalk" now.

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