Sunday, March 20, 2011

The Strokes-Is This It

When rock music entered the 21st Century, it was clear that something wasn’t right in the world of rock.  The mainstream was torn between the world of rap-metal bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park along with post-grunge bands like Creed and Nickelback.  Though 90s acts like Pearl Jam, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Nine Inch Nails were still around in churning out hits and doing well live.  It was clear that in some circles, rock music was getting boring.  With every reaction towards the mainstream, there would always be something else that would shake things up. 

The early 2000s saw a revival of garage rock as bands like the Hives and the White Stripes brought something new to the rock scene.  Stripped down rock with just guitars, bass, and drums (or in the case of the White Stripes, guitar and drums).  One of those bands that would part of that revival as well as a resurgence of the New York City rock scene would be a band that brought a new excitement to the music scene.  They are simply known as the Strokes.

Formed by vocalist/songwriter Julian Casablancas, guitarists Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr., bassist Nikolai Fraiture, and drummer Fabrizio Moretti in 1998.  The Strokes created a simple, stripped-down style of rock that had the aesthetics of garage rock mixed in with the driving rhythm of post-punk along with elements of late 70s/early 80s new wave rock and the roughness of the Velvet Underground.  With Casablancas as the songwriter and having a vocal style similar to VU vocalist Lou Reed.  The band presented their sound through an EP called The Modern Age that gained attention in the U.S. and British underground that led to a huge bidding war leading to the band being signed to RCA Records for their first album.

Written by Julian Casablancas and produced by Gordon Raphael, Is This It is a debut album by the Strokes that captures the band’s unique sound.  Featuring rhythmic, driving rock music with no frills or any kind of polished production that was prevalent in the rock albums at the time.  Is This It was truly a breath of fresh air as it was direct and to the point along with Julian Casablancas’ lyrics filled with witty ideas about life in New York City as well as what young people go through when they’re growing up.  The results isn’t just one of the definitive debut albums ever made but also one of the best albums to define the 2000s in style.

Opening the album is its title track with Fabrizio Moretti’s slow, steady drum beat and swirling, driving guitars from Nick Valensi and Albert Hammond Jr.  Led by Julian Casablancas’ cool, nocturnal-like vocals filled with lyrics driven by boredom.  Featuring Nikolai Fraiture’s loopy, melodic bass line, the song is a slow, steady ballad-like track as it’s driven by a smooth yet bopping rhythm.  The Modern Age is a bumping, mid-tempo track led by Moretti’s pulsating drum fills and Fraiture’s driving bass line to the dual guitar assault of Hammond and Valensi.  Casablancas sings in a more hollowed, growling vocal style as he sings about the world with a witty sarcasm.  Even as the song features a wailing guitar solo and ringing guitar washes as it’s one of the definitive cuts of the album.  Soma is a track led by wailing guitar lines mixed in with spurting washes along with a bopping rhythm from Moretti and Fraiture.  Even as Casablancas sings in a cool vocal style with lyrics that is filled with angst about the way the world works as Casablancas adds a snarl to the vocal delivery.

Barely Legal is a bouncy, upbeat song with a bopping rhythm and driving guitars as Casablancas sings in a cool growl.  Featuring racy lyrics about an underage girl turning legal, it’s one of the album’s key cuts as it features some amazing guitar solos that is looped with the frenetic drumming of Moretti.  Someday is an upbeat, mid-tempo track as it’s led by Moretti’s rhythmic beat with crashing cymbals along with some washy, spurting guitar lines with Fraiture’s driving bass line.  Casablancas sings in a calm approach to the vocals as he sings about love gone wrong as it has Casablancas bringing humor to the subject matter.  Alone, Together is led by droning guitar swirls that is carried by a steady yet robotic rhythm.  Featuring some wailing guitar lines and driving washes, the song also has Casablancas singing in a direct vocal style with some very dirty, sexually-driven lyrics as it is later followed by a chaotic guitar solo.

Last Nite is a mid-tempo track led by a bouncy rhythm from Moretti’s drums and Fraiture’s bass line with washy guitar tracks joining in.  Casablancas sings with a growl that reflects on a night that went wrong as it is filled with wit in its delivery.  Even as the song’s steady approach is included by Hammond’s swooning guitar solo that plays to the song’s minimalist tone.  Hard to Explain is led by a swirling, wailing guitar line that drives the song along with a fast-paced, pulsating rhythm from Moretti and Fraiture.  With Casablancas’ growling vocals, Casablancas sings lyrics about the difficulty of living in the modern world as the song speeds up during the chorus with its swooning guitars.

New York City Cops, from the U.K. version of the album, is led by sounds of feedback that is followed by charging guitar assaults with droning riffs and a menacing, bopping rhythm.  With Casablancas’ growling vocals, the song features spurting guitar washes as Casablancas sings some angry, biting lyrics about the NYPD as it’s one of the album’s standout cuts.  From the U.S. version is When It Started, a bouncy track with an opening, robotic drum roll that is followed by chugging guitar riffs and loopy bass lines that support Moretti’s steady yet pulsating drum fills.  Casablancas sings in a calm vocal style with abstract lyrics about how things went wrong in a relationship.

Trying Your Luck is led by swirling guitar lines with a steady, mid-tempo rhythm along with driving guitar washes.  With Casablancas’ growling vocals, he delves into the world of melancholia about the world as he’s accompanied by a bouncy rhythm in the chorus.  The album closer is Take It or Leave It is led by fast, swooning guitar wails as it plays to the track’s fast-paced, frenetic rhythm led by Moretti’s drumming.  With Casablancas’ snarling vocals taking charge, he gets into a more confrontational mode as he sings about the ups and downs of life.  Even as the band gets more intense in the performance with wailing solos along growling guitar riffs playing along as it is a fitting way to close the album.

Released on July 30, 2001 in Australia, the album was creating buzz on the Internet internationally where it finally was released in the U.K. later that August.  A U.S. release was delayed due to the 9/11 attacks as the song New York City Cops was replaced by When It Started for its October release.  The album drew rave reviews from critics as it became a major hit album with the indie rock crowd.  Even as it served as an alternative to mainstream rock while the album was bigger in the U.K. as it helped set the new wave of British indie rock acts like the Libertines and the Arctic Monkeys.

Nearly ten years since its release, Is This It is still a vital and sensational debut album from the Strokes.  Anyone new to this band will definitely see this as the best place to start.  No matter what version of the album anyone can get.  As far as debut albums is concerned, this is definitely one of the definitive albums to get as it is up there other seminal debuts.  In the end, Is This It is a remarkable masterpiece by the Strokes.

The Strokes:  (Room on Fire) - (First Impressions of Earth) - (Angles)

© thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

PJ Harvey-Let England Shake

Since arriving to the music scene in the early 1990s, PJ Harvey has been one of the most enduring artists of the past 20 years. With each record she’s created, she always finds a way to reinvent herself. From the early rocking days of albums like Rid of Me to the hypnotic glam of To Bring You My Love in the mid-1990s. Harvey is always trying to find a way not to repeat herself. Even as she experiments with new sounds and ideas whether its collaborating with longtime friend John Parish on two albums or playing with different sounds in albums like Is This Desire? and White Chalk. In 2011, Harvey returns once again with a new sound and idea as she tackles the idea of war for her eighth studio album Let England Shake.

Written by PJ Harvey with production by Harvey along with longtime collaborators Flood, John Parish, and Mick Harvey. Let England Shake is a haunting collection of songs that reflects on the horrors of war that occurred during World War I. With a sound that is mixture of blues and folk, the lyrics is Harvey moving away from introspection to cover more eerie images of the lyrics she sings. Her vocals meanwhile, also take a change for a higher-pitch yet warbling sound to reflect the tone of the album. The results is Harvey’s most captivating and adventurous work to date.

The album opens with its title track which is led by a vibrant, melodic-clinging xylophone performance from John Parish along with a piano as PJ Harvey sings in her airy, high-pitch vocal style. Featuring Harvey on a strumming autoharp, she sings oblique lyrics filled with dark imagery about eerie landscapes as it gives an indication about what the rest of the album is. The Last Living Rose is led by Harvey singing in her wailing vocals filled striking lyrics about war and going into battle. Featuring Parish on a thumping, mid-tempo drum and a blazing trombone, Harvey plays a melodic, washy guitar track to accompany her vocals. The Glorious Land is led by Jean-Marc Butty’s warbling drums and washy guitars as a bugle war call plays through the track with its wandering production. Featuring esoteric lyrics about the chaos In the battlefield, she’s joined by Parish in the songs as she sings about America and England in war.

The Words That Maketh Murder is a mid-tempo track with washy guitars and lush autoharp strums as Harvey sings about the horrors of war with eerie description of soldiers dying in battle. With Parish singing along with Harvey on the chorus and playing a trombone, it’s one of the album’s darkest track that includes some sparse yet broad production over the way the instruments are mixed. All and Everyone is a ballad led by warbling yet rumbling drums, washy autoharp and guitar strums, and a swooning organ as Harvey sings the aftermath of battle in a sea of bodies. Featuring different time signatures in moods along with an arrangement of horns from Parish and Mick Harvey. It’s one of the album’s key tracks. On Battleship Hill is a track that starts off as a thumping, mid-tempo track featuring lush, flourishing guitar tracks that slows down once Harvey sings in a wailing high-pitch vocal. Returning to its original time signature, the song features descriptive lyrics of landscapes filled with death as war rages on.

England is a ballad that features Harvey singing as she plays a screeching violin to her wailing, warbling vocals. Featuring Harvey on a guitar and Parish on a mellotron, Harvey sings mournful lyrics with a raw delivery as the production plays to the multi-track vocals of Harvey singing and wailing in the background for its chaotic presentation. In The Dark Places is a mid-tempo track led by growling yet somber guitar washes, soothing keyboard riffs, and a slow yet bopping drum track. Featuring a wailing yet low-key horn arrangement, Harvey sings about the chaos of the battlefield as men get ready for war. Bitter Branches is a fast, upbeat track with speedy snare fills and driving guitars as Harvey sings about the fear in the battlefield as the soldiers start to face death.

Hanging In the Wire is a mid-tempo track led by Mick Harvey’s soothing piano track as PJ Harvey and John Parish sing in soothing vocals to lyrics about the feeling of death. With a slow, thumping drum track and a rich production, it is another of the album’s standout tracks. Written On the Forehead is a lush, brimming song led by flourishing guitar tracks and Harvey’s warbling, wailing vocals as she sings about the cost of war both in and out of the battlefield. Featuring some amazing production with lyrics of “let it burn” in the background with a sample of a Rastafarian singing along, it is one of the most haunting cuts on the album. The album closer The Colour of the Earth is a duet with Harvey and John Parish as Parish sings in a raspy vocal with a washy guitar track. Featuring abstract yet esoteric lyrics about the fallout of battle, it is a fitting close to the album as it plays to the anger and melancholia over war.

Let England Shake is truly one of PJ Harvey’s finest recordings of her near-20 year career. It is also her most ambitious and adventurous work to date proving that in the age of such pop starlets as Lady Gaga and Britney Spears. She is one of the few female artists who is willing to challenge everyone including herself into whatever project she makes. Let England Shake is also Harvey’s richest album since her 1995 masterpiece To Bring You My Love as it’s an indication of how far she’s gone from one style of music to another. In the end, Let England Shake is another triumph from the always versatile and daring PJ Harvey.

© thevoid99 2011

Sunday, March 6, 2011

PJ Harvey & John Parish-A Woman A Man Walked By

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/25/09.

Already beloved by critics and a devoted following since the early 90s, PJ Harvey remains one of rock's most enduring artists. 2007's White Chalk was a departure from her other work yet was acclaimed for its stripped-down, experimental sound that showed her versatility and range. Involved in co-producing the record with her was her longtime friend and collaborator John Parish whom she made an album with in 1996 entitled Dance Hall at Louse Point. Parish's contributions to White Chalk prompted Harvey to make another album with Parish that is more upbeat in contrast to her last album as well as something more accessible than their last collaboration.

Produced by PJ Harvey, John Parish, and Flood, A Woman A Man Walked By is an album by Harvey and Parish that recalls Parish's art-rock sound. With Parish writing the music and performing most of it while Harvey sings and does all of the lyrics. The record is a more accessible album than Dance Hall at Louse Point with more folk-rock influences and styles recalling Harvey's early work. With songs delving into many lyrical themes, it's a record that is both adventurous as well as melodic. The result is a winning collaboration from PJ Harvey and John Parish.

The album's opening track and first single is bouncy rocker Black Hearted Love filled with bopping rhythms and John Parish's smooth, wailing guitar. With PJ Harvey's calm, wailing vocals filled with lyrics about a dark love filled with eerie references to murder, it's a smooth, simple song that is led by Parish' bouncy arrangements and shimmering guitar work. Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen is a foot-stomping, folky track with washy acoustic and banjo track with pounding beats and Harvey's raspy, bluesy vocals. With Parish's stripped-down arrangements with intense bass lines and Harvey's esoteric, fearful lyrics, it's a song that plays with its structure while maintaining a folk sound with bits of electric guitar. Leaving California is another folk-inspired track with tingling pianos, washy blues riffs on acoustic-electric guitars, and Harvey's high-pitch vocals. With lyrics about the beauty of California, it's a wonderful, atmospheric song that is captured by its production.

The Chair is a song with a smooth, sputtering beat with flourishing pianos and growling guitar spurts. With Harvey's wavy vocals filled with nostalgic lyrics and longing, it's a song that plays to a sense of atmosphere with arrangements that are unconventional in its performance and instrumentation. April is a mid-tempo ballad filled with slow beats, smooth organs, and Harvey's soft, raspy vocals. With its dark, desperate lyrics filled with themes of death, it's a song that plays to a somber presentation led by Harvey's vocal range that delve into its emotive quality. A Woman A Man Walked By/The Crow Knows Where All The Little Children Go starts off as an acoustic-blues track with upbeat, grinding riffs with Harvey's playful lyrics with a whimsical vocal style. With growling vocals, the song goes into a rumbling, pounding intensity as Harvey plays the mean blueswoman as she is accompanied by a wavy string arrangement. With tingling pianos flourishes, the song becomes a different track with its vibrant, shimmering rhythm with blaring horns and guitars.

The Soldiers is a folky ballad led by Parish playing a mandolin accompaniment to Harvey's soft, raspy vocals. With its melancholic lyrics, it's a song that recalls the old folk ballads of the mid-20th Century with a hollow, tingling piano accompaniment as well as a harmonium. Pig Will Not is a punk-inspired song recalling Harvey's early work with growling vocals and hard-hitting, rollicking rhythms led by Parish' grinding guitar. With an organ accompaniment, Harvey sings punk-like vocals with a snarl that is all about performance and anger. Passionless, Pointless is a lush, soothing ballad with washy, jangly guitar riffs and wavy flute-like tracks that accompany Harvey's smooth, wailing vocals. With its dreamy lyrics and Parish's melodic-flourishing arrangements, it's a song that is about atmosphere due to its superb production and Harvey's haunting vocals. The album closer Cracks In The Canvas is a tender ballad with soft, choral-like organs and melodic ukelele plucks. With Harvey's calm, somber vocals and decaying lyrics with washy guitars provide a fitting close to the album.

While it doesn't have the consistency of some of PJ Harvey's more well-known and revered albums, A Woman A Man Walked By is still a fascinating yet versatile record from Harvey and collaborator John Parish. Thanks to a more layered and atmospheric production with versatile styles, it's a record that is far superior than their last collaboration nearly 13 years ago. Fans of PJ Harvey will no doubt enjoy this record to hear the woman sound like she's having fun while giving some great attention to the brilliance of John Parish. In the end, A Woman A Man Walked By is a superb album from PJ Harvey and John Parish.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Saturday, March 5, 2011

PJ Harvey-White Chalk

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/24/09.

After success of 2000's Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and 2004's raw, sparser Uh Huh Her, PJ Harvey was still riding high on a wave of critical acclaim and some moderate commercial success. While still enjoying a loyal fanbase, Harvey took a low profile for the next few years which included the release of a compilation record called The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 as a tribute to the late John Peel. Harvey was also contributing to side projects including the Desert Sessions with Queens of the Stone Age's Josh Homme, contribute vocals to a Mark Lanegan album, and wrote/produce/perform some songs for an album by Marianne Faithfull. At the same time, Harvey was also learning to play piano which would help shape new material she was working for the dark, haunting 2007 album White Chalk.

Written by PJ Harvey with production by Harvey, Flood, and John Parish, White Chalk is an album that recalls the experimentation of Harvey's mid-90s work but in a stripped-down performance. Using mostly piano, an instrument that Harvey didn't have much experience on, the record is an atmospheric record with lyrics recalling dark themes Harvey had previously explored in the past. With help from friend/collaborator John Parish plus Dirty Three drummer Jim White and past collaborator Eric Drew Feldman. White Chalk is an eerie yet powerful masterpiece from PJ Harvey.

The album opens with The Devil, a song led by a striking, tingling piano with high notes and thumping beats. With PJ Harvey singing in a smooth, falsetto vocal, the song is filled with chilling lyrics awaiting for the arrival of an evil figure. With its eerie arrangements and evocative vocal layers, it's a song that sets the tone for the entire album. Dear Darkness is a ballad led by somber, melodic piano flourishes with Harvey's high, wailing vocals and a soft, pounding bass drum. With lyrics delving into melancholic themes with acoustic guitar flourishes, it's a rich, ethereal song that continues the album's dreary mood. Grow Grow Grow is led by an ominous, mid-tempo piano melody that plays to Harvey's wailing, raspy vocals with flourishing, tingling keyboards in the background. With lyrics filled with sad, nostalgic themes that plays to the song's soothing, atmospheric tone, it's another track intense arrangements and top-notch production.

The first single When Under Ether is a bouncy though smooth track led by a melodic piano accompaniment with Harvey's high-pitch vocals filled with descriptive, decaying lyrics. With a swooning keyboard in the background, it's an unusual song for a single while it's one of Harvey's most enduring cuts. The album's title track is led by a swirling, hollow acoustic guitar track with Harvey's low, hollow vocals filled with melancholic lyrics. With Harvey's wailing vocals and an accompany banjo led by its evocative production is a track that maintains its mood and stripped-down performance with smooth drums and soft harmonica in its coda. Broken Harp is a song led by Harvey's somber vocals that is accompanied by a smooth, twangy autoharp and other string instruments. Filled with lyrics of redemption and sadness, it's a song that emphasizes Harvey's vocal range as she sings it without any kind of theatrics.

Silence features a bouncy piano track with shimmering percussions that accompany Harvey's smooth, wailing vocals. With its reflective lyrics filled with spiritual themes, it's a song filled with evocative arrangements and amazing production for the song's chorus with layers of vocals. To Talk To You is a chilling piano ballad with Harvey's high-pitch, wailing vocals filled with sad, desperate lyrics. With its moody arrangements filled with soft percussion taps and its melodic-tingling piano notes, it continues to maintain the atmosphere of the entire album. The Piano is a track with soft, washy guitar riffs, soft, sputtering beats, and flourishing keyboards that recalls the experimental work of Radiohead. With Harvey's calm, soothing vocals and sad lyrics, it's the album's most daring and experimental track of the album led by its layered production.

Before Departure is a somber piano ballad filled with lyrics about death. With Harvey's soft vocal and melodic piano accompaniment that includes slow, haunting beats and tingling keyboards that plays into a simple yet chilling arrangement. The album closer The Mountain is a ballad with flourishing piano melodies that play to Harvey's high-pitch, falsetto vocals. Filled with intense arrangements that build the song up along with Harvey's intense vocals which includes dark, evocative lyrics. With flourishing mandolins in the background, the track's momentum builds up which includes Harvey's wailing vocals in the song's coda to give it mesmerizing yet haunting effect to close the album.

Released in the fall of 2007, the album drew rave reviews for its experimentation and haunting sound as the record revealed PJ Harvey's versatility as an artist. The album was a moderate success while her fan base ranked it high among her other albums. Harvey did a brief tour to promote the album before taking another break to work on various projects including another album with friend John Parish.

White Chalk is an ethereal yet mesmerizing masterpiece from PJ Harvey. While it's a more chilling record than some of her other albums, it's a record that shows Harvey's growth as a musician, songwriter, and vocalist. While it's an album that might not be accessible with her other albums, it's a record that is very consistent with its mood and performance thanks in part to the contributions from co-producers Flood and John Parish. In the end, White Chalk is an album that will haunt the listener from the first track to the last one as it's a brilliant record from PJ Harvey.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Friday, March 4, 2011

PJ Harvey-The Peel Sessions 1991-2004

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/23/09.

Of the rock disc jockeys to come into the world, none were as revered as John Peel for the BBC. Peel's emphasis to discover new bands, especially in the punk rock movement helped expose British audiences to new worlds while being honest about his ideas on the mainstream. To many young musicians, John Peel was the person to go to in hopes of getting heard on the radio or be exposed to audiences who had never heard of them. When John Peel suddenly died of a heart attack on October 25, 2004, the world of British music lost one of its unsung heroes. One of the artists whose career benefitted from Peel's unwavering support was PJ Harvey who compiled a collection of some of her best performance from her sessions for John Peel entitled The Peel Sessions 1991-2004.

The record is a compilation of Harvey's career from her early beginnings to a tribute performance she gave to the renowned disc jockey. Featuring four different sessions plus a tribute performance weeks after his passing. The album features deep cuts from studio albums plus rarities and cover songs as it's a record that doesn't really have a lot of hits nor any other big songs. The result is a well-compiled record that serves as a fitting tribute to the late John Peel.

The first four tracks which features Harvey's old trio that included bassist Steve Vaughn and drummer Rob Ellis. From the September 29, 1991 Peel session are four tracks that would later appear in PJ Harvey's 1992 debut album Dry. First is Oh My Lover, the desperate love song led by Steve Vaughn's sturdy bass line and Rob Ellis' slow, hollow beats. With Harvey's washy guitar and wailing vocals with smooth, pounding rhythms, it's one of Harvey's great songs. Victory is a mid-tempo song led by Vaughn's twangy bass line and Ellis' rumbling bass beats with bouncy rhythms that is led by Harvey's washy guitar riffs, wailing vocals, and sneering lyrics. The famed single Sheela-Na-Gig with its bouncy rhythms, washy punk riffs, and Harvey's calm vocals with sexy, dirty lyrics is shown in a simple yet rollicking performance. The last track of the session is Water with is smooth, bouncy rhythm and melodic-washy guitars with Harvey's wailing vocals with powerful lyrics as she delves into a sexual maniac.

From the March 2, 1993 session are two tracks which are essentially rarities that either appeared as B-sides or soundtrack material which also features Vaughn and Ellis performing. First is Naked Cousin, a song that would later appear in the soundtrack to The Crow: City of Angels. With its blistering, rumbling beats from Ellis, wailing keyboards, and crunching guitars from Harvey, it's a song has Harvey singing in a wailing, bluesy vocal with dark lyrics about death. It's one of Harvey's best rarities featuring a great vocal in the song's chorus along with some growling guitar riffs. Next is a cover of Willie Dixon's Wang Dang Doodle, a B-side from the Man-Size single. With its melodic, funky riff and smooth, sputtering rhythms, Harvey goes to a growling, bluesy vocal with wailing falsetto to emphasize on the sexiness of the song.

From the September 5, 1996 session are three tracks from two different periods in which Harvey performs by herself. The first is a cover of Rainer Ptacek's Losing Ground from the That Was My Veil single. With its fast, crunching guitar riff, it's a song where Harvey sings in a calm, playful manner to the song with her vocals with its abstract, weird lyrics. Next is Snake from Rid of Me, the angry song with Harvey's wailing vocal with swift, driving guitar riffs that exemplifies Harvey's love for punk-rock and grunge with growling riffs coming later in the song. That Was My Veil from the Dance Hall at Louse Point album with John Parish is an acoustic ballad filled with Harvey singing in a somber vocal style with melancholic vocals that features a keyboard solo in the background. Especially in an intimate setting as she performs with just an acoustic guitar and a keyboard.

From the November 10, 2000 session are two tracks from her acclaimed 2000 release Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea. First is the U.K./Japanese bonus track This Wicked Tongue, a sinister song with growling guitar riffs as Harvey sings in a hollow vocal style with Rob Ellis' thumping beats. With its dark, mean lyrics, it's a song with an intense performance that features soft, swirling guitars that play up to Harvey's angry energy. Beautiful Feeling is a soothing, atmospheric ballad led by Harvey's calm, somber vocals with dreamy lyrics as she is accompanied by a piano and a washy guitar during the performance. The last track on the record is from a December 16, 2004 BBC tribute performance for the late John Peel in You Came Through from Uh Huh Her. Performing to a live audience with just a swift, electric guitar strum, Harvey sings the somber ballad with her smooth, wailing vocals as she's accompanied by an acoustic and tapping percussions. Harvey's simple, emotive vocals is the highlight of the record as it's a fitting closer and tribute to John Peel.

While the record doesn't have all of the material PJ Harvey has done for John Peel in numerous BBC sessions. It's still a fascinating record that features rare performances that fans can collect who missed them the first time around. While the material Harvey selected is definitely excellent, it's a record that's really more about how much John Peel meant to her and other artists. In the end, The Peel Sessions 1991-2004 is an excellent album from PJ Harvey that pays tribute to the late, great John Peel.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Thursday, March 3, 2011

PJ Harvey-Uh Huh Her

Originally Written and Posted at on 6/23/04.

Only 12 years into her recording career, PJ Harvey has endured to be one of rock’s most intriguing figures. Always changing her sound Harvey continued to push the envelope for herself as a songwriter and musician. After 2000’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and its following tour, Harvey took a break from her demanding career to be involved with side projects. One of the projects Harvey did was for the Desert Sessions with Queen of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme. After playing around in the project, Harvey decided to go back to her solo career with longtime drummer Rob Ellis for a more stripped-down sound in comparison to the glossy pop-laden production of her previous album entitled Uh Huh Her.

Uh Huh Her might seem to be a return to the raw, angst-laden style of 1993’s Rid of Me but musically and lyrically, it evolves from that record. Talks of sex, love, feminism, and pain are sung but in more mature levels. Whereas Steve Albini help give Rid of Me a lot of the emotional and musical punch from his production, Harvey chooses to do the album herself with playing most of the instruments with only Rob Ellis on drums and percussion. While guitars mostly dominate the record, the album also features Harvey on keyboards, bass, and acoustic instruments. Even in its raw, stripped-down format, Uh Huh Her experiments more with certain music styles to push her songwriting to new levels while Ellis’ drumming is more minimalist by not having any cymbal crashes or traditional drum fills (on some cuts). While not up to par with the masterpieces of Rid of Me and To Bring You My Love, Uh Huh Her is another achievement in Harvey’s adventurous career.

The album opens with The Life & Death of Mr. Badmouth with its stripped-down bravado of distorted, droning guitar riffs and Rob Ellis’ slow, bass-pounding drums. PJ Harvey sings the song’s sneering lyrics of pain with her grungy guitar accompaniment as she sings the song with her seductive, snarling vocals that includes the chorus line of “Wash it out”. With only guitars, drums, and vocals in the song, Harvey and Ellis just play the song with Harvey also bringing a melancholic piano accompaniment behind the distorted wails of her guitar. Shame is more rhythmic-based song with warbling Latin rhythms from Ellis’ drums and Harvey’s lush vocals and distorted, washy guitar accompaniment. Harvey is also accompanied by a soft, harmonica track that she performs with her sexually laden lyrics of ambiguity and her mesmerizing, high-pitch, blues-wailing vocals.

Who The F*ck? is a return to Harvey’s Rid of Me rocking days with Ellis’ hard-hitting snares and warbling, guitar playing from Harvey who brings in her wailing, snarling vocals to the song. The song is raw, unadulterated Harvey with her angry lyrics filled with intense sexuality in her vocals proving that she is sexy with just her voice and guitar. Pocket Knife is a lush, more atmospheric track with gypsy-like rhythms from Ellis on percussions and Harvey just playing a distorted guitar wash. Harvey brings a high-pitch vocal range to the song’s dark, guilt laden lyrics filled with Harvey’s obtuse, poetic imagery in her lyrics that proved how far she’s come over the years lyrically and vocally. The Letter is a more rocking track with melodic, ringing riffs and Harvey’s deep vocals and distorted guitar riffs accompany Ellis’ machine gun-like sputtering beats. With Harvey’s vocals and her desperate lyrics of love is filled with her raw emotions and minimalist musical presentations in the guitars and drums.

The Slow Drug is an eerie ballad led by Harvey on keyboards that harkens to the darker territories of To Bring You My Love. The song features plucking string accompaniments with Harvey leading on keyboards and her dense, evocative vocals filled with ambiguous lyrics of dark layers and imagery about a boy’s fall from grace. The track’s keyboard-laden sound and Harvey’s vocals make this song the darkest on the album filled with painful lyrics of despair in this eerie track. No Child Of Mine is an acoustic ballad with Harvey singing with only an acoustic guitar and Evelyn Issac on background vocals. The song is a return to Harvey’s love for the blues with her lyrics detachment in this short, ode to the blues. Cat On The Wall is a return to the distorted, grungy guitars of earlier songs with Harvey wailing, “Turn off the radio” in her swooning vocals. With Ellis on drums, Harvey brings in more painful lyrics with her scream of “Turn off the radio” with her angst-ridden vocals of feminism powered by her driving guitars and accompanying, whistling keyboards.

You Came Through is a ballad with slower, bass-pounding rhythms from Ellis and xylophone-like keyboard riffs with an accompanying, shimmering harmonica track. Harvey goes into her seductive vocals of love with a chorus line of “You come through for me”. While You Came Through is the most accessible track on the album amidst the grungy guitars and darker songs, the track shows Harvey’s ability to be a pop songwriter without conveying to traditional pop songwriting structure by only using her vocals as the key instrument. It’s You is another ballad-like track with more robotic-like, slow drumbeats from Ellis and Harvey leading the song with a piano with distorted guitars on the background. Harvey even leads the song with her swooning, depth-driven vocals with her desperate lyrics of love and guilt where she lets the track in its raw tone. The End is an instrumental piece only accompanied by a soft, washy electric guitar track and harmonica all performed by PJ Harvey in its soft, subtle presentation that she dedicates to indie actor/filmmaker Vincent Gallo.

The Desperate Kingdom Of Love is another love ballad that pretty much sums up its title with Harvey’s soft, deep vocals and an acoustic guitar accompaniment. Again in that stripped-down approach, Harvey just keeps it simple in its performance while her lyrics are filled with desperation in its soft vocals and dense production. The next track is an untitled instrumental that is filled with nothing but calls from seagulls with crashing soft waves of the oceans. The album’s closer The Darker Days Of Me & Him is another acoustic-driven track but with the dark textures of string textures of The Slow Drug and soft, drum beats from Ellis. Harvey conveys the song’s guilt-driven lyrics of love with her raw, evocative vocals. With soft, warbling keyboard riffs and Ellis’ soft drums, the song brings the album to a dark, uncomforting close.

While Uh Huh Her isn’t as consistent as Rid of Me or To Bring You My Love, it is still one of PJ Harvey’s finer efforts to date. While the album’s rockier tracks will bring some familiarity to those who enjoyed Rid of Me while other songs is a reminder of To Bring You My Love and other records, Harvey used her past to move forward while experimenting with new musical styles. Overall, its Harvey being at her most uncompromising with no rules and just keeps it plain and simple. Fans will undoubtedly enjoy this record while newer fans should just get Rid of Me or To Bring You My Love for better introductions while this record isn’t a bad start. In the end, Uh Huh Her is a raw, adventurous album from one of rock’s most challenging heroines.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

PJ Harvey-Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/23/09.

Following the release of 1998's Is This Desire?, PJ Harvey went on a brief tour before taking a break from recording. After a year of traveling and exploring places, notably New York City which she was enamored by. For her next album, Harvey decided to make a record that was more melodic than previous albums as she turned to Bad Seeds multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey (no relation) and her old drummer from her early 90s trio in Rob Ellis. The result wouldn't just be one of her most commercially successful records but also one of her crowning achievements with Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea.

Written by PJ Harvey with production and performance by Harvey, Mick Harvey, and Rob Ellis, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is an album filled with light-hearted songs about New York City, love, heartbreak, and various other themes. With a guest appearance from Radiohead's Thom Yorke on a few tracks, the album is more based on guitars, bass, and drums with some keyboard accompaniments as the experimentation of past albums give way for something more accessible and melodic. The result is a winning, joyful album from PJ Harvey.

Opening the album is Big Exit is an upbeat, jangly song with washy, electric guitar riffs with Rob Ellis' bouncy, bass-thumping beats. With PJ Harvey's wailing vocals and powerful lyrics about moving forward as it's a song that is simple yet rich in its production and performance. Even in its chorus with Harvey delving into a falsetto vocal style with her wailing vocal. The first single Good Fortune is another upbeat, dreamy song with washy riffs and Ellis' thumping beats with Harvey's smooth, playful vocals with lyrics about falling in love and walking around in New York City. With just a driving guitar, simple rhythm, and Harvey's wailing vocals, it's one of her best singles. The second single is the dreamy ballad A Place Called Home with PJ Harvey singing in somber, raspy vocal with a fast, flourishing acoustic guitar. With Mick Harvey's soothing performance on the keyboards, harmonium, and piano, it's PJ Harvey's vocals and melancholic lyrics that shape the song with it a simple, thumping rhythm in the background.

One Line which includes Thom Yorke on keyboards and additional vocals, is a mid-tempo track with swift, driving guitar riffs from Harvey as she sings in a raspy, vocal style with dark, dream-like lyrics. With Yorke's eerie vocal and keyboard accompaniment to the song's bouncy, mid-tempo rhythm, it's a song that has Harvey singing in a smooth presentation. Beautiful Feeling is a dark, hollow ballad with Harvey playing a droning, melodic guitar track with her quiet vocals as she's joined by Yorke on accompanying vocals. With her creepy yet sad lyrics, it's a song revels in its atmosphere that is carried by Yorke's unique vocal accompaniment. The Whores Hustle And The Hustlers Whore is an upbeat, washy tune with jangly riffs and pounding beats that features some great arrangements by Mick Harvey. With PJ Harvey's eerie, bluesy vocals with dark, imagery-laden lyrics, it's a song that revels in the dirtiness of New York City with its mid-tempo, guitar-driven presentation.

The Mess We're In is a duet with Thom Yorke with washy, bouncy guitar riffs with mid-tempo rhythms from Rob Ellis' drum taps and Mick Harvey's smooth piano accompaniment. With Yorke singing PJ Harvey's lyrics filled with dark, despaired lyrics, his soothing, dreamy vocals and Harvey's own calm vocal work in the chorus as it's a wonderful track that is rich in its production and arrangements. You Said Something is a ballad led by Harvey playing a melodic keyboard track with washy guitars and simple, bouncy rhythm. With Harvey's calm, engaging vocals with lyrics describing NYC, it's a wonderful track that plays to its simplicity as well as it's dream-like tone. Kamikaze is an upbeat, blues-grinding track with chugging guitar riffs and soft, rollicking beats as Harvey sings in a wailing, bluesy vocal with angry, assaultive lyrics that's a return of sorts to her early work.

The third single This Is Love is a growling, upbeat blues-rock number with charging riffs and thumping beats with Harvey's loud, wailing vocals filled with angry lyrics. Harvey's driving, melodic-flourishing guitar and vocals filled with lots of attitude with Mick Harvey's accompanying keyboard is a song that is a mix of punk, blues, and indie as it's one of her best singles. Horses In My Dreams is an acoustic ballad with dream-like guitar flourishes and atmospheric production that plays to Harvey's somber, raspy vocals with esoteric, imagery-laden lyrics. With Mick Harvey's accompanying piano with a simple banjo accompaniment, it's another ballad that shows PJ Harvey's unique range as a performer and vocalist.

The album closer We Float is a bouncy cut with dance-like rhythms and Mick Harvey's melodic piano track to accompany PJ Harvey's raspy, soothing vocals. With Harvey's desperate, dream-like lyrics, it's a dark closer that plays well to the album with a different arrangement in the middle song that gives it a sweeping feel. Serving as a bonus track from the U.K. and Japanese version of the album is This Wicked Tongue. With its growling, charging guitars and Harvey's hollow, wailing vocal filled with dark, sneering lyrics. It features Rob Ellis' bass-pounding accompaniments as it becomes this upbeat, bouncy track with melodic guitar flourishes as Harvey sings in her angry, growling vocal style to close the entire record.

Released in the fall of 2000, the album started off slowly yet hung around the charts for more than a year as it later became an unexpected hit. Thanks to wide-spread critical acclaim and Harvey's devoted audience, the album helped raise her profile as she felt more comfortable with the attention this time around. In 2001, Harvey was awarded the prestigious Mercury prize while gaining several nominations. The album itself would later be hailed as one of the best records ever made by a female artist as her career was now flourishing at this point.

Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is a spectacular masterpiece from PJ Harvey that is filled with upbeat, dreamy songs. With top-notch production and contributions from Mick Harvey, Rob Ellis, and Thom Yorke, it's a record that is accessible yet filled with songs that harkens back to Harvey's earlier work. While it doesn't have the abrasive tone of Rid of Me nor the adventurous side of To Bring You My Love, Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea is a fantastic, winning album from PJ Harvey.

(C) thevoid99 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

PJ Harvey-Is This Desire?

Originally Written and Posted at on 4/22/09.

The big critical acclaim and success of 1995's To Bring You My Love was a huge surprise for PJ Harvey as changed her persona from guitar-wielding alt-rock chick to an androgynous, make-up wearing, alt-rock queen. Despite all of the attention she did, the tour and promotion for the album overwhelmed her as she took a break to work on various projects. One of them was a collaboration with her musician friend John Parish for the 1996 album Dance Hall at Louse Point which received a decent reception. Harvey at the time was going through a difficult period dealing with depression which became the basis for her fourth studio release entitled Is This Desire?

Written mostly by PJ Harvey with production by Harvey, Flood, and Head along with additional work from Marius De Vries. Is This Desire? is an album that has Harvey explore the world of electronic music with minimal guitars to emphasize on moods based on keyboards and other electronic devices. Featuring contributions from John Parish, Bad Seeds multi-instrumentalist Mick Harvey, and from Harvey's old trio in the early 90s, drummer Rob Ellis. It's an album that explores Harvey's dark mood as it deals with life's difficulties with Harvey playing some of the instruments with help from her collaborators. While it's the least accessible work among her solo recordings, Is This Desire? is still one of PJ Harvey's most interesting albums of her career.

Opening the album is Angelene, a ballad with dreamy, washy guitars performed by PJ Harvey as she sings in a somber, melancholic vocal. With a smooth, bouncy rhythm led by Rob Ellis' sputtering drums with John Parish' piano and Mick Harvey's simple, morose arrangement. The song reveals Harvey singing in a growling state with sad, doomy lyrics filled with words that are inspired by the blues as it sets the stage for the album. The Sky Lit Up is an electronic-inspired track with additional production and mixing from Marius De Vries with siren-like keyboards, charging guitars, and fast, hard-hitting rhythms. With Harvey singing in a raspy vocal with eerie lyrics about a dreary town with Harvey singing wailing falsetto on parts of the song.

The album's second single The Wind which is a blues-inspired song that mixes Marius De Vries' electronic production of smooth, pounding electro-bass beats, tapping snare drum machine beats, droning bass lines, and Harvey's whispering vocals. With Harvey singing in a falsetto-style vocal on top of her whispering vocals, it's a song filled with imagery-laden lyrics about the earth. Featuring symphonic arrangements of strings and electronics, it's one of the record's most unique cuts. My Beautiful Leah is a mid-tempo, fuzzy electronic track with thumping, warbling bass line and sputtering beats with Harvey's hollow vocals. With its creepy lyrics about a woman with nightmares, it's a song that delves into Harvey's state of mind with Flood's unique, atmospheric production. The first single A Perfect Day Elise is a track with mid-tempo, metallic-like electro beats and washy guitar shimmers that play to Harvey's raspy, hollow vocals. With lyrics delving into paranoia and horrors, it features a great chorus with Harvey's soothing vocals accompanied by a synthesizer.

Catherine is a haunting, ominous track led by soft, thundering beats with melodic, washy guitar riffs. With Harvey's smooth, eerie vocals with lyrics about a woman desperate to escape from her dark existence as it's a rich, eerie track led by Harvey and Parish's melodic guitar work. Electric Light is a soothing yet unconventional ballad led by an electronic bass accompaniment to play to Harvey's vocals filled with heartbreaking, somber lyrics. With a soft drum accompaniment from Rob Ellis, it's the most unconventional track that Harvey has done which includes her singing in a dreamy, falsetto vocal. The Garden arrives with sputtering, pounding beats arranged by Rob Ellis with a droning bass line as Harvey sings in a somber vocal about a garden that two lovers used to embark as they hope to meet again. With John Parish's rich piano accompaniment, it's a song that is enchanting with a narrative that is mesmerizing in its description.

Joy, co-written with Rob Ellis, is an electronic-heavy track with layers of beats from soft, sputtering drum n' bass style to metallic snare fills that includes a droning bass line. With Harvey's growling vocals and haunting lyrics about death, it's a song that shows Harvey's mesmerizing vocals with Ellis' unique musical arrangements in this experimental cut. The River is a piano ballad led by thumping rhythm and smooth bass line as Harvey sings somberly about a river that serves as a place of escape. Featuring a trumpet solo by Terry Edwards in the middle of the song, it's a wonderful track that revels in Harvey's vocals and unique arrangements.

No Girl So Sweet is an upbeat track with swirling electronic arrangements and cymbal crashes that features bouncy beats from Rob Ellis' drums and charging guitars. With Harvey's howling vocals filled with dark, angry lyrics, she goes into a wailing vocal yelp for the song with driving guitar riffs that goes into chaos which includes a screeching violin performance from Richard Hunt. The album closer is its title track, a mid-tempo, bluesy track with soft pianos and melodic guitars with Harvey singing in a soft, raspy vocal filled with somber lyrics of desperation and confusion. It's a fitting closer to the album as plays to its melancholic mood.

Released in late September of 1998, the album drew mixed reviews from fans and critics. Some praised it for its experimentation while others felt it lacked any memorable songs in relation to To Bring You My Love. Harvey however, considered the album a personal favorite despite the difficulty she was going through at the time. While she did a tour for the record that was more low-key than in previous tours, the record still didn't fare well commercially though it would provide her a chance to take a break before making an official return in 2000.

While it's probably her least accessible album (with the exception of Dance Hall at Louse Point with John Parish), of her career. Is This Desire? is still a fascinating yet adventurous album from PJ Harvey. While it's a record that doesn't have a lot of memorable songs with its focus on mood and sound textures. It's one that can't be overlooked in which, the record showcases Harvey's willingness to take risks while delving into the late 90s electronic music scene without betraying her musical roots. In the end, Is This Desire? is an excellent, adventurous album from PJ Harvey.

(C) thevoid99 2011