Reviews:: PJ Harvey White Chalk

I'm probably going to end up in the minority, but hearing Polly Jean emote over minimal piano lines and ambient percussion is a-ok with me. PJ Harvey has had a fantastic career built on rage and distorted guitars, so hearing the rhythmic pulse of the piano on The Devil is quite shocking and exposes a new side to Harvey. Gone are the guttural sounds and Patti Smith guitars and in their place is an eerie, high pitched, voice so full of fragilities that you expect to crumble at any moment.

The new voice works perfectly for the moody, dark world in which these songs exist. The minimal arrangements force you to focus on her voice, and like the dancing flame that lights your fire-escape deck or living room as you collapse into a chair after a bad night, it captures your attention. Her voice dances around the notes perfectly, taking advantage of the simplicity of the piano tinker and subtle percussion (provided by Jim White) and as a result, you feel every emotion. It would be easy to use an analogy about ghost like apparitions and mystery, because that is exactly the tone Harvey sets with this record. The songs leave you just a bit unsettled, like being alone in a country house and turning your head every time the floorboards creak.

I don't want to dissuade fans of her older work, and make it seem that Harvey has lost her intensity or femininity. On the Piano, opens with the calmly delivered "Hit her with a hammer, teeth smashed in" and becomes a creepy tale of remorse and pain. The album closer, The Mountain, start so peacefully, but the song evolves into a twisting, chaotic roller coaster that really finishes off the record strongly.

She uses subtle variation to keep the record moving - like the galloping pace and soaring outro of Silence - but for the most part the songs rely on simply on emotion. With all the changes in her style and vocals and the focused theme, Harvey made a smart move when she kept the record short. Eleven song, 33-minutes is the perfect length for an album like this. Instead of blending into a melancholic mess, she trims the song lengths to about three minutes which gives you just enough time to digest the pain she delivers, but not long enough to wear you down. It's a refreshing twist for Harvey, and one fans will hopefully embrace.
MP3:: When Under Ether - removed
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