PJ Harvey Shares Teaser for First Album in Five Years

Though 2015 has been a year packed with legendary musical comebacks—Missy Elliott, Janet Jackson and Duran Duran, to name a few—2016 looks just as promising. Today, PJ Harvey announced the forthcoming arrival of her first full-length album since 2011’s Mercury Prize-winning Let England Shake. This will mark the singer/songwriter’s ninth studio release to date, and though it’s currently untitled, Harvey unveiled today a brief teaser to appease fans.

In the video, we see Harvey wandering among rustic ruins and overlooking a melancholic, mountainous landscape where a crushed army tank lies. Her grainy electric guitar provides the fleeting soundtrack, as her vocals flutter powerfully above. “This is the ministry of defense,” she asserts, lyrically reflecting an artistic journey she embarked on throughout Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington, D.C. Watch the teaser, below, ahead of the album’s spring 2016 release:


PJ Harvey Releasing Two New Songs For Mark Cousins Documentary Soundtrack

West Country alt-rock icon PJ Harvey released a killer album last year in Let England Shake, and as she announced on Facebook today, fans already awaiting some new material will be able to hear two new PJ Harvey songs, titled "Horse" and "Bobby Don’t Steal," in the upcoming documentary What Is This Film Called Love?, which will premiere at All Tomorrow’s Parties in London on May 27th. Simon Fisher Turner, a British indie-pop mainstay and one -time member of The The, also contributed to the soundtrack.

Irish film critic Mark Cousins, best known behind the camera for The Story of Film: An Odyssey, directs the lyrical-doc film, which was shot in Mexico and "begins as a film about the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein, and then, using his ideas, opens up to look at memory, landscape and the pleasures of walking." You can watch the trailer for the film over at its Facebook fan page. There are a lot of shots of pen roads and big, empty philosophical questions involved.

Harvey’s 1995 hit "To Bring You My Love" will also be featured in the film, and naturally, like pretty much anything else she does, it deserves a revisit:

PJ Harvey to Release ‘Let England Shake’ DVD

PJ Harvey’s Let England Shake is one of our favorite albums of the year, and we’re not alone. (Harvey won the Mercury Prize earlier this year). The album, which is Harvey’s tenth solo effort, focuses less on the singer-songwriter’s introspection, but rather the big-picture issues of war and nationalism. The subject matter is perfect for a collaboration with war photagrapher Seamus Murphy, who directed short films featuring the music from Let England Shake. Harvey announced today that she will release a DVD of all twelve films next month.

According to Pitchfork, "Harvey has announced that the videos will be collected on a DVD called Let England Shake: 12 Short Films by Seamus Murphy. It’ll include a previously unreleased short film for a solo live version of album cut ‘England’." The collection will be released stateside on December 6, while fans in Harvey’s homeland will have to wait until December 12 to pick up the disc. 

The films are stark and subtle, much like the tunes on Harvey’s piano-and-autoharp-focused album, and are filmed with war imagery from Murphy’s time in Afghanistan and Iraq. Check out the video for the album’s first single "The Words That Maketh Murder" below:

March Music Reviews: Bright Eyes, Toro Y Moi, PJ Harvey

Katie Costello, Lamplight (Tiny Tiny) Ignore the sudden sensation of being thrown into an iPod commercial, because the feel-good, piano-heavy melodies on Katie Costello’s sophomore album are instantly offset by quirky lyrics and rich, reverberating vocals. Costello’s first record, Kaleidoscope Machine, which she released independently at the age of 17, was a collection of sing-along anthems tailor-made for histrionic teen dramas like One Tree Hill and 90210. With all that CW-approved angst now out of her system, Costello has crafted a more mature, evolved sound, drawing likenesses to Regina Spektor and Fiona Apple. But with her fresh point of view, Costello has carved out a space all her own. —Nadeska Alexis

Acrylics, Lives and Treasure (Hot Sand/Friendly Fire Recordings) On their full-length debut, Acrylics’ Molly Shea and Jason Klauber retread the same sonic terrain—’70s soft rock and ’80s new wave—they first explored to dreamy effect on their 2008 EP, All of the Fire, which was produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor. Slow, oozing harmonies and sinewy synthesizer beats form a backdrop for tales of sticky August nights spent with a lover. The album’s most successful moments find the Brooklyn-based duo sharing vocal duties on tracks like “Counting Sheep,” where Shea, a smooth and hypnotic presence, makes room for Klauber’s folk-tinged voice, creating an unpredictable amalgam of oddball sounds. —NA

The Go! Team, Rolling Blackouts (Memphis Industries) The Brighton collective’s third album—their breakthrough, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, was released in 2004—is a field study in genre. Hopscotching between styles and eras, often on the same track, Rolling Blackouts is a jubilant journey through the land of Nostalgia. From the girl-group sheen of “Ready to Go Steady,” to the boogie-down, brassy rap (courtesy of in-house emcee Ninja) on album opener and lead single “T.O.R.N.A.D.O.,” the Go! Team remains committed to a retro aesthetic that sounds new. The album’s strongest track, “Buy Nothing Day,” features vocals from Best Coast’s Bethany Cosentino, and recalls the best summer you’ve ever had. —Ben Barna

PJ Harvey, Let England Shake (Vagrant) PJ Harvey has left Brooklyn rooftops behind and returned her focus to Britain. The UK looms large in Let England Shake, a haunting collection of 12 songs that trade introspection for an outward-looking take on the fog, graveyards, and ghosts of her homeland. The seminal indie songstress has produced an album—which she recorded in a 19th-century church in Dorset—that defies comparison, both with other artists and her own earlier work. On “The Glorious Land,” the sharp strains of a bugle give way to lyrics praising fields of wheat, while “England” strikes a more personal note, with Harvey singing of “withered vines reaching from the country that I love,” a possible allusion to her prolific two-decade career. Harvey is at her best with “Written on the Forehead,” a ska-influenced track that evokes a hopeful counterpoint to northern austerity. Inscrutable, engaging, and endlessly satisfying, this is pure Polly Jean, through and through. —Victor Ozols

Bright Eyes, The People’s Key (Saddle Creek) After settling on a roster of permanent musicians in the once-revolving cast of Bright Eyes players, Conor Oberst insists that his seventh studio album will be the band’s last. It’s appropriate, then, that The People’s Key is all about time—time travel, specifically. Instead of building on the Gram Parsons influences heard on Cassadaga, Bright Eyes’ last offering, The People’s Key embraces the opulence of Bowie glam and psychedelic rock. Carla Azar from Autolux and the Faint’s Clark Baechle are among the many guests who join in on an album that Oberst says was heavily influenced by dystopic literary icons, from Kurt Vonnegut to Margaret Atwood. —CG

Toro Y Moi, Underneath The Pine (Carpark) We’ll never understand why recording artist Chazwick Bundick felt he couldn’t use his real name to release his sneakily addictive music, but Toro y Moi, the moniker under which he prefers to put out his lo-fi tunes, will do just fine. Underneath the Pine, the South Carolina native’s second effort with Carpark records, finds 24-year-old Bundick returning to chill-wave, a controversial mini-genre that seems to undersell the record’s smart layering and instrumentation. Siphoning from a depthless reservoir of disco nostalgia on tracks like “New Beat,” and fellow halcyon rockers like Neon Indian and Animal Collective on others, Toro y Moi’s songs mix and master everything from European house to Ennio Morricone. —Megan Conway

Darwin Deez, Darwin Deez (Lucky Number) They say the devil is in the details, which is perhaps why Darwin Deez’s self-titled debut sounds so heavenly—it eschews minutiae. Quick-clipped melodies and a drum machine are all Deez needs to ignite his pared-down sound, bubbling with chipper lyrics that are neither affected nor adolescent. Deez, a native New Yorker, is a nerdier Devendra Banhart, his cheerful façade lessening the blow of “The Bomb Song” when he sings, “I heard about 6,900 people have died.” Along with critical acclaim, the ringletted singer-songwriter’s straightforward manner and scratchy guitars have earned him comparisons to the Strokes’ Albert Hammond, Jr. and Adam Green. They should all jam together and bring a whole new meaning to the term “hair band.” —Cayte Grieve

Primal Scream: PJ Harvey’s Tortured Genius

“I want his fucking ass! I want your fucking ass!” These imperative, pornographic commands from “April,” a characteristically maverick song off A Woman A Man Walked By, the anticipated new collaborative album by PJ Harvey and John Parish, evoke nothing so much as Marlon Brando’s improvised dialogue in Last Tango in Paris as rendered by the Jesus Lizard. Hurtling out of the speakers, Harvey’s uncanny, decidedly masculine bark relays the aggression and growling timbre of a sexual thug.

Strangely, when speaking with Ms. Polly Jean Harvey by phone from London, just after she’d performed a low-key show, the acclaimed singer–songwriter seems nothing like the unhinged, unabashedly profane character inhabiting “April.” Decidedly English, with a proper accent, the diva offstage proves articulate, almost demure. When asked about “April,” she seems to shudder with embarrassment at the thought of discussing it. “That Luddite chorus—I couldn’t even repeat it, because it’s bad language,” Harvey says in total seriousness, a blush audible in her voice.

The irony that Harvey, 39, can sing those words at the top of her lungs but not say them out loud seems strangely appropriate, considering the twists and contrasts shaping her career. When she released her acclaimed debut album, Dry, in 1992, it signaled the arrival of a major, yet unpredictable, new talent. Harvey’s rapturous performances ricocheted tension, while the enigmatic storytelling of her lyrics illuminated an uneasy intrigue. Meanwhile, the almost Cindy Sherman–like characters that she created onstage and in photographs toyed provocatively with traditional ideas of sexuality and gender. All these elements fused together for a beguiling, if inscrutable, persona. Dry’s sound still owed a debt to indie guitar rock like the Pixies, but frontwoman Harvey was something else, very much her own animal.

Initially, Harvey was repeatedly compared to Patti Smith, to her annoyance. It wasn’t that she sounded like punk poet Smith; instead, it was that both put “icon” into iconoclasm, each sharing the ability to become transformed by the spirit of sound into something larger than life. But Harvey’s intensity exuded a dark, religious ecstasy all her own—especially on her bluesy, spooky masterpiece To Bring You My Love (voted one of the 500 greatest albums of all time by Rolling Stone magazine). Since then, Harvey has proved consistently unpredictable, spiraling from 1998’s harrowing, emotional Is This Desire? to the primitive pianos haunting 2007’s impressively stark White Chalk. “I don’t understand how people keep making the same kind of music over and over,” she explains. “I feel so passionately about that: I need to constantly feel like I’m learning something new. All I’m trying to do is make records that sound different from one another.”

Exploring themes of sex, transgression, obsession and self-loathing, Harvey, on A Woman A Man Walked By, invokes the blues shot through with Gothic Americana, closer in tone to Flannery O’Connor than any of her alt peers. Speaking of the aforementioned “April,” Harvey recalls “a moment where I use my voice in what I would call a very… singer-like way.” At this, she lets out another embarrassed laugh. “My voice crescendos up to a high note, just to tumble down in quite an acrobatic vocal style. I wouldn’t do that on my own songs, but John’s music threw me into this emotional expression where, I hesitate to say, I sound like a… singer.” She cracks up laughing again, adding: “The energy and savagery in the music that John gave me produced those words and that singing.”

The unique working arrangement that Harvey and Parish share allows the pair to access new places in each other’s music. Parish, an acclaimed producer and musician in his own right, lays claim to an impressive catalog of experimental, uncompromising solo material, avant-garde scores for theatrical productions and idiosyncratically brilliant studio productions for the likes of Tracy Chapman and the Eels. With Harvey, Parish maintains a specific musical telepathy: He co-produced To Bring You My Love, and has since worked as a sideman on nearly all of Harvey’s solo projects. On A Woman A Man Walked By (as well as on their jointly credited work, 1996’s Dance Hall At Louse Point), Parish writes all of the music, while Harvey handles lyrics and vocals, out of which springs intentionally unexpected results.

“John writes very extravagant music, in a way that I never would or could in my solo material, and it’s quite a challenge as a singer and a writer to match it,” Harvey explains. “Collaborating with him, I feel more liberated than in my own work. What he throws me is a wide-open canvas, so my mind can go anywhere. I’m working in unfamiliar territory straight away, so I immediately start exploring areas I’d never stumble across were I working on my own.”

“Polly can be intense—deranged even—but she never slips into histrionic vocal gymnastics,” Parish notes. “She’s very technically capable, but she’s more interested in the emotional intensity of performance. I love that the record has many different voices, which Polly has an incredible gift for. The voices she uses emphasize the change in atmosphere and character from song to song.”

A Woman A Man Walked By brims with similar contradictions: Kurt Weill–style recitations given a contemporary frisson; gutbucket stomps inspired by Baudelaire, but rendered in post-punk aesthetics; and, above all, a smoky cinematic quality suggesting David Lynch. “I almost see each song like a little movie: the characters spawn themselves because of the atmosphere that’s inherent in the music,” says Harvey. “As a child, I’d perform stories I was reading. If I was reading Toad of Toad Hall, I’d act out the book’s characters: I’d have a little voice for Toad, and a different voice for Badger, then another for the mouse. I used to have my parents in hysterics! So it’s very natural for me to see the story in the music. In some ways, I’m just the narrator for what I’m seeing.”

Not surprisingly, Harvey’s exquisite feel for narrative recently led to her first theatrical score commission, for a recent Broadway production of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler starring Mary-Louise Parker. “I’ve wanted to write music for film and theater ever since I began, and no one ever asked me!” Harvey exclaims. “I’ve been longing to do a soundtrack, so when they asked I immediately said yes. I love the play and have seen many productions of it, as well as productions by the director, Ian Rickson. I liked writing for a director’s vision—it was lovely for me not to have to be the boss!”

Harvey’s next career move might prove (laughably) to come from left field. Judd Apatow, take note: Harvey is yearning to explore her lighter side. “Comedy is a hugely important part of my life,” says the avowed fan of American sitcoms like Seinfeld and classic Brit humor such as Blackadder and Monty Python. “I think I have a greater understanding of the meaning of life through the utterly ridiculous. I’d love to appear on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and one of many things I want to do before I die is a standup comedy performance incorporating music with another comedian. It sounds completely unfeasible—to pull it off would be a miracle, but challenges excite me. As long as it’s pushing some boundaries, then it’s worth doing.”


Photography by Maria Mochnacz

Hedda Gabler on Broadway: Better Than You’ve Heard

Talk about being in the Weeds — reviews for the Roundabout’s recent Mary-Louise Parker-led production of Hedda Gabler on Broadway haven’t been too kind. The New York Times’ all-too-powerful Ben Brantley called it “one of the worst revivals I have ever, ever seen,” so: there goes that extension. Thing is, it’s not all bad. The production has a few saving graces that go without mention elsewhere, though.

1. PJ Harvey stealing the show. It’s true — the infamously eccentric singer/songwriter Harvey did the original score for the production; it’s dissonant, strange, atmospheric, and absolutely beautiful. The Times actually has a slideshow with a piece of the score in it — it’s a must-listen for both Harvey fans and Broadway sound designers everywhere. So many of the productions on Broadway fail or fall short here, and often, it’s because the original music for a show (heard for only a few minutes out of, say, a two-hour production) isn’t really a dealbreaker. But in the same way lighting or scenery (in a much more prominent way) can set a mood, a good score can pull an audience further into a production beyond all the obvious elements. Harvey’s score does just that: It sets everything on edge, possibly further than any other element of the production. It’s the toy at the bottom of the cereal box in this case, but if you’re there, make sure to listen closely; you can hear the sound of what should be the future of sound design in theater, with working, experienced musicians handling setting a mood.

2. Mary-Louise Parker’s unintentionally pitch-perfect performance. The common gripe of this production’s total lack of glue between the actors — the complaint that they seem to be in totally separate eras of this Hedda — is mostly true, and Parker plays the title character in an air far more contemporary than anyone else on the stage: she’s in 2009, while the rest of the cast hangs out around when the play was written (1890). Parker plays Hedda’s ambivalence with her domestic non-bliss as of-the-minute: pissy, desperate for desperation, but mostly, unflinchingly bored. The contrast between her performance and those of the people surrounding her creates a strange, bizarre friction that lies outside the context of the play. Maybe Parker is just bored with the show; then again, maybe this is how her character should have always been played. Either way, even if fanatics of long-dead playwright Henrik Ibsen are pissed, at least Parker’s fans (also: kind of fanatical) will definitely dig it.

3. The Incredible Sleaze of Paul Sparks. Even though it’s a supporting role, Paul Sparks still gets a pretty meaty piece to play with; the last time he was featured on Broadway was in Richard Greenberg’s Take Me Out, so his White Way resume has serious pedigree, and his work off-Broadway is pretty often nothing short of awesome. Sparks plays his role — a writer with a slightly tragic streak who falls in the title character’s path of destruction — with an exceptional amount of sleaze. In a downer of a character, and a play in general, it’s fun to watch Sparks on a big stage, playing one strong, resonating note exceptionally loudly, and awesomely.

Tickets to Hedda Gabler are on sale through the Roundabout’s site; the show’s on a limited run through March 29, so get in while you can.