By – Kristi Houk
Recommended if you like: Kate Bush, Bjork, Radiohead, Patti Smith
Polly Jean Harvey doesn’t make the same record twice. Period.
I feel the need to lead with that since there have been murmurings that her latest release, I Inside the Old Year Dying, doesn’t have enough grit as her earlier albums. Sure, this record may not have the same urgency as, say, Rid of Me (1993) or Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea (2000), (and my favorite) but does it need to? My thought is absolutely not.
This is a weird, mysterious album and it may take a few listens to grasp what the hell is going on. Produced by Harvey’s longtime partners, Flood and John Parish, these songs were adapted from her book of narrative poetry—Orlam where she’s created a sonic fantasyland out of field recordings, primitive instruments and biblical references. Oh, and Elvis Presley makes an appearance.
On the opening track, “Prayer at the Gate,” the listener is summoned by a tribal beat, an unnerving minor drone of an electric guitar (at least I think that’s a guitar) and vocal trills of our narrator to enter the dark forest where the trees cry, the Lords have dark hair and “forever bleed(ing) with The Word.” Don’t @ me for writing this, but it’s almost as if Harvey broke out the old Zeppelin IV for lyrical inspiration.
There’s something both sinister and saintly at work here. Take the dream-like, lush “The Nether-edge” (is she speaking in tongues?) the music is a tad more upbeat, dare I say, melodic? But it’s the lyrics that make it flourish.
“Buds a-break and milchi seeps
Heady in the meadows
Chalky children on the steep
Baskets full of shadows
Gapmouth spins a rattle song
The air’s an upturned ocean
Swift’s an axe hurled in the gloam
Splits the Riddle open.”
I’ll have what she’s having.
Ms. Harvey’s voice has never sounded better and it’s front and center in the mix. And while a bunch of snarling, loud guitars and screaming is great, you can still feel empowered with a whisper.
Standout Tracks: “Nether-Edge,” “I Inside the Old Year Dying,” “August”
Available now at a record store near you. In Birmingham only at SEASICK RECORDS
Written by: kristi houk
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