Saturday, October 26, 2013

Thoughts on PJ Harvey's White Chalk

I had never heard PJ's music before this record as I had always associated her with guitar heavy indie rock music. But a friend that works in the industry gave me a lovely 45RPM pressing of White Chalk when it was released in 2007. I find myself continually coming back to this unutterably exquisite exploration of pain. There are no guitars here, mostly piano and autoharp along with some restrained drumming by the Dirty Three's Jim White. Bass, banjo, zither, fiddle and organ all appear here and there as well. Producing legend Flood and long time Harvey collaborator John Parish made the record with her and they're skills are obviously indispensable. It has some of the most beautiful vocal arrangement work ever put to tape, her voice is astounding stop-you-in-your-tracks powerful. When the back-ups drop on Silence it chills me to the bone every time. It is a short, concise, powerful record capable of stirring up serious emotion to those paying attention. The subject matter seems to be the dissolution of family, specifically abuse, and certain acts are strikingly recounted throughout the album- indeed, some songs are near transgressive in their vividness. Truly haunting. The album echos of another time or another world, its baroque feel and tonal longing are unlike anything I have heard before or since. So, yeah, I highly recommend this LP if you like heavy duty music- and it gets better with each listen even after 5 years. I am usually hesitant to recommend this kind of highly personal, emotive music but I think this LP cuts across a lot of boundaries. Also, I do not suggest listening one song at a time online, just buy the LP and play it loud at home in the dark to hear it's full potential. It's cheap on discogs. Her follow up- the war torn Let England Shake is amazing too but slightly more normal sounding than her ethereal and singular masterwork White Chalk.

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