So finally we turn our backs on the Lucksmiths and tune in to an album that has been getting pretty regular spins in my world for 17 years.
This is one of the rare CDs in my collections that I’ve always enjoyed, that has a distinct sound and context, and which has never prompted me to seek out anything else of theirs nor wonder whether I could see them live.
This quartet of female New Yorkers dropped this fine collection of tracks way back in 1994. While the band’s indie cred should have been assured (their drummer hailed from an early incarnation of the Beastie Boys), they got a little lost in the buzz around bands like the Breeders, PJ Harvey and the like.
It’s understandable in that there were no wailing guitars (or voices) here, but rather a curious funk lounge disco vibe. It’s a bunch of summer-in-the-city tracks, with sleepy but kinda sexy vocals and a soulful hip hop vibe not unlike the Boys’ instrumental efforts.
This is a groove album. While a few tracks stand out (Deep Shag, Citysong, Strongman) really it’s about the 45 mins of a single sound that evokes some very chilled, hip NYC squat/loft filled with Chloë Sevignys and Zooey Deschanels… and you’re all invited:
File under: A recipe for fun
Wow, the letter H proved a long-drawn out saga, as the lead-up to my month-long absence in Italy seriously curtailed by listening and blogging. But, after 35 reviews, here are the top 10 on my desert island list:
- Darren Hanlon – “Hello Stranger”
- PJ Harvey – “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”
- Ed Harcourt – “Here Be Monsters”
- The Hold Steady – “Separation Sunday”
- PJ Harvey – “Dry”
- The Housemartins – “Now That’s What I Call Quite Good”
- Darren Hanlon – “Little Chills”
- The Housemartins – “London 0 Hull 4”
- Hilltop Hoods – “The Hard Road”
- Hilltop Hoods – “The Calling”
Only six artists there, but a mix of sounds and styles that’d keep me happy while I constructed my coconut powered jet…
Artists have every right to push themselves and explore new territory.
On this album, Polly Harvey puts down her trusty guitar and instead embraces the piano… despite it being one instrument she has not played much in her multi-instrumental past.
In doing so, she abandons her normal vocal range, heading up the register considerably. That makes for a very different beast than I’d been used to, and enjoyed.
The album is a slow, moody, contemplative set, but one I find limited joy in. I completely understand that this is Harvey exploring the outer reaches of gothic land, and thus is supposed to be all eerie and other-worldly, but frankly I find it all too distant, dreary and a tad precious. I could cop a track or three of this material but a whole album just grates.
I prefer my banshees to be more in your face and less sneakily haunting.
File under: I prefer cheese
Our collection of Harvey output is pretty sparse for no apparent reason.
Indeed, I think this was actually the first Harvey album I actually bought, as housemates had owned much of her earlier discography. And I’m mighty pleased to own this epic.
This is Polly’s NYC album – an homage to the city, life and love therein. The overt rawness of that debut has been replaced by a sophistication and mastery that is very seductive.
Polly has been a pal and collaborator of Nick Cave, and this album highlights their similarities, not so much aurally, but in terms of confidence and playfulness. This album is chockfull of soaring, soulful tracks (comparable to Cave’s “beautiful” Boatman’s Call).
Harvey has learnt to control her powerful voice. When she rocks it out (e.g. The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore) it is with consummate ease, and when she slows it down and duets (This Mess We’re In by far the best thing Thom Yorke’s ever been involved in) it works beautifully:
I’m sure there are hardcore Harvey fans (well, I know there’s loads of them, as I’ve seen them at her live shows) who probably dismiss this as her whimpy, sell-out album, but as a casual listener I find it pretty close to perfect.
File under: Grime and brine
I actually think this CD belongs under “P”, as PJ is the band’s name – Polly being the singer’s name – but this is where it sits on my CD rack, and I’ll forget to review it if we wait ’til P.
As debut albums go, this one is a standout. PJ Harvey strode onto the indie scene with a rush, making a mockery of the half-assed ‘riot grrl’ movement by showing what a hard rocking, primal rock vocal could (and should) sound like.
This album is raw and raucous, yet not underproduced or amateurish. The guitar work is astoundingly good, evoking some of the buzzsaw Jesus and Mary Chain styling, but less of the droney pedal action.
Harvey’s vocals at their wildest approach scary. She seems to be ripping at her vocal chords and baring her soul. While Sheela-Na-Gig is justifiably lauded as the classic from this album, there are a series of other tracks almost as strong. Three of them a played in this clip:
This is one of those great quiet-loud albums… or should that be loud-quiet-really loud? The subtler moments with strings and breathy vocals are just as evocative as the big banshee efforts.
File under: To satisfy a hard-earned thirst