PJ Harvey - White Chalk (CD Island)

 PJ Harvey’s latest album is a marked departure from what you’ve come to expect. White Chalk is filled with unusual instruments not usually dominant on a PJ Harvey recording such as piano the Zither, banjo, broken harp, cig fiddle etc and very little guitar. It’s probably the best album she’s made since Is This Desire. The songs sound very stripped back, very honest. It has a feel of a very personal album. Unlike previous albums you get no lyrics to read so have to try and guess what it’s about from the words you can make out.  An almost a depressing album, it sounds bleak yet at the same time beautiful and compelling.  You start to feel like you’re eaves dropping on a very private performance.

It’s certainly a world away from the loud brash and ultimately disappointing PJ Harvey by numbers that was Uh-Huh Her. I think at that point it seemed like she was almost just filling a contractual obligation and delivering what the label expected of her. White Chalk feels like an album that had a lot of thought put into it before hand. A new direction, a new sound, even with familiar faces such as Flood and John Parish helping out (though Mick Harvey is noticeably absent). This is the first time John Parish has been on a PJ Harvey recording since Is This Desire and you have to wonder how much of an influence he is here. This certainly has a lot more in common with the Parish/Harvey album Dance Hall at Louse Point (even though that’s still very much a “guitar” album) than it does with recent Harvey albums. I have to wonder if perhaps John Parish doesn’t perhaps bring out the best in PJ.

Highlights here are “The Devil,” with it’s almost Good Vibrations repeated piano/tambourine  motif.  “White Chalk,” an simple sounding  acoustic guitar led track that is possibly one of the most beautiful pieces I’ve ever heard, short and sweet. “Broken Harp,” a track played on what presumably is a broken harp and sounds almost like a Nico outtake and the very lovely “Silence,” another piano motif led track accompanied by what sounds like some light brush work on a snare.

What I love about PJ Harvey’s songs here, and particularly the piano led pieces are the simplicity of them. I believe she only started writing on piano for the first time for this album and the simplicity of her piano riffs really makes the songs sound as special as they.

This album is a triumph for PJ. Certainly one I haven’t tired of in the least after repeated plays. DB

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