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

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