Thursday, November 01, 2007
PJ Harvey - White Chalk
The unique snowflake that is PJ Harvey released White Chalk just over a month ago, a piano-oriented (Harvey had no piano experience prior to White Chalk) and ethereal effort unlike anything she's released prior. Fitting for Harvey, whose persona shifts shape and styles from one album to the next with, seemingly, no rhyme or reason. Whatever her muse, PJ Harvey manages to mesmerize and break new ground with each release.
The strangely pleasant opener, "The Devil", introduces this higher register PJ Harvey, singing on the outer edges of her vocal range, perhaps as a complement to the piano that sparely drives the album. Only on "Grow Grow Grow" does the more baritone, deep-seated roar of classic PJ Harvey rear its head, and it does so over dancing piano and deceitfully limited percussion. But a strangely pleasant opening becomes quickly discordant with what follows.
The album's first (and possibly only) single, "When Under Ether", says it all. Apparently about the effect of ether on a woman bearing child ("waist down undressed . . . something's inside me, unborn and unblessed), the track is dark, gloomy, and nearly claustrophobic in its constraint and chamber music. Subject matter on the album includes the historical residents of Harvey's home and her blood ancestors ("White Chalk") as well as the brutally killed ("The Piano"). The bleak ambience of this album fits undeniably well with the chill of winter, shorter days and longer nights.
Using many non-conventional instruments (cig fiddle, wine glass, the kitschy and doomed Optigan, broken harp on the apropos "Broken Harp"), White Chalk emits a spartan vibe of rigging whatever is available to make music. Perhaps this is exactly what the ancestral subjects of "White Chalk" did, possessing Harvey to do the same on her eighth studio album. Eschewing the garage punk of Uh Huh Her and electing to adopt a bone chilling sound that gets inside the listener like a spirit or demon takes over its victim, White Chalk compels its listener to heed its rustic sound.