CD Review: PJ Harvey’s “White Chalk”

I should preface this review, by saying that I have always really liked what I have heard from Polly Jean over the years. I probably first heard her stuff in the early nineties and the thing that really attracted me to her sound was the grittiness of her vocals, which was always emphasized with overdrive or distortion. The vocal sound perfectly compliments the oft-tortured topics of the lyrics. I love “White Chalk” for completely different reasons.

This album absorbs you with a luscious analog kiss, lonely pianos, and the rattle of a tarnished zither. PJ’s voice mesmerizes like a smile on the face of a car crash victim. Harvey utilizes some odd time signatures as well waltz-y feel that somehow harks to the middle ages. The timbre of this recording is timeless- the sounds seem to come from hundreds of years ago.

Although Harvey occasionally re-explores some of her former gritty growls, she is mostly singing high in her head voice. There is one passage where she sounds like the boy soprano from the soundtrack to The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover. I have found myself listening to the album over and over again in my car. I constantly find new moments and new sounds. I dissect the production in my mind.

“White Chalk” is a wonderful, dark album.

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