For almost 13 years, PJ Harvey has remained one of my favorite contemporary artists due to her ability to casually shift from heavy rockers to slow, almost seductive and brooding numbers with a voice that unlike any you have ever heard. It is that voice that carries each narrative from her lips to your ears and the music that embeds it in your brain. When I say that she one of my favorite contemporary artists, I do not mean that she is my favorite contemporary female artist. I mean she sits pretty high alongside Deftones, Mike Patton and Portishead as artists who continue to push the boundary of their personal sound and growth while challenging the audience to do the same with each album. With that said, this week's pick is Let England Shake by PJ Harvey
Just as 1998's Is This Desire and 2007's White Chalk were different from the other albums in Ms. Harvey's canon, Let England Shake drastically stands out among the pack and could possibly be her greatest artistic achievement. Given the current times, the idea of a album featuring war narratives and themes could and, for all purposes, should seem a bit cheesy, a bit expected. From Harvey, an album about war is anything but expected and cheesy and refuses to go the route of the singer-songwriter, acoustic war chronicle. This is a slightly up-tempo, brilliantly performed album about war, the emotions toward it and a country built from it.
In many ways, it feels like the great, lost Kate Bush album written but never recorded especially with Harvey taking on a different vocal approach and the instrumentation. Yet, it is unmistakably PJ Harvey pouring herself into every note of this album, which reportedly took two and a half years to write. In addition to the writing are the horns and effects scattered throughout the album and assisting her on autoharp. Just as she previously worked with piano on White Chalk, Harvey introduces autoharp to her arsenal and gives it a feeling and sound identifiably unique to the recordings. Without relegating the sound or songs to particular time, each track sounds timeless and will continue to do so for many years.
With Let England Shake, PJ Harvey has made a truly definable album of her career and expands her voice and sound in a way never before imagined. Granted, fans of her earliest work who have not kept up with her current work might be disappointed by the lack of hard rock but do not let that bother you. This album is, without a doubt, her finest work to date and a highly recommended pick of the week.
Buy Let England Shake here.