Sunday, February 20, 2011

8x8: PJ Harvey vs. Radiohead

This has truly been a great week for music! It started with the release of PJ Harvey’s eighth wonder of an album, the universally acclaimed “Let England Shake”, and concluded with the digital release of “The King of Limbs”, Radiohead’s also eighth offering, an album that seems almost everyone with an internet connection got to listen to merely hours from its Friday launch.

I was recently restating my admiration for PJ Harvey’s 2000 masterwork “Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”, her fifth LP that topped C.M.C.'s “Best Albums of the ‘00s” list, but it is now obvious that Polly’s creative trajectory had yet to reach its peak. The two albums that followed “Stories…” may not have been as stellar as her previous body of work, but were still as original as anything she has given us in the past and stayed true to her commitment to reinvent herself with each new album.

With “Let England Shake” yet another metamorphosis is completed and the ever changing Polly Jean Harvey has now taken on the role of a war correspondent, detailing with a deceptively sweet voice the horrors she observes as she time-travels back to 1915 Gallipoli and proceeds to other war-torn places and self-destructive times. The gruesome subject matter is related with the accompaniment of some of the most beautifully melodic and effortlessly catchy music she has crafted in a long time - inventive and simple at the same time. Very soon you’ll find yourself whistling along to horrific tales from World War I’s battlefields as PJ Harvey with the help of her esteemed collaborators that include John Parish, Mick Harvey and producer Flood, weaves a delicate soundscape with the introduction of new instruments to her musical arsenal, most notably autoharp and saxophone, as well as sampling . Twenty years into her ever evolving, illustrious career PJ Harvey has delivered another masterpiece; “Let England Shake” is one of those all-too-rare records with the power to enchant on the very first listen and haunt the listener for a lifetime.

Each of the album’s twelve magnificent tracks is going to have a video made by war photographer Seamus Murphy and you can watch them all here. The latest clip to surface is for the album's title track and you can check it out below:

PJ Harvey - Let England Shake

Radiohead’s “The King of Limbs” on the other hand, is not a radical departure from the band’s recent work; in fact my first impression is that it continues exactly where “In Rainbows” left off three and a half years ago. Thom Yorke’s recent collaboration with Flying Lotus seems to have been an influence on Radiohead’s approach on the new material with even more glitchy electronica and jazzy beats creeping in songs like the frantic opener “Bloom”. The beat goes on with “Morning Mr Magpie” which also has a whiff of “Remain in Light”-era Talking Heads and rarely lets off for the duration of the album. In fact, only the two tracks that slow things down (“Codex” and “Give up the Ghost”) are those that failed to impress me, in an otherwise strong whole that provides further proof that by embracing and incorporating left-field electronica to their sound Radiohead have become a much more exciting proposition than their star-making '90s output had suggested (no, I’ve never been a fan of “OK Computer”). Let the unhinged dance continue!

Here’s the video for the stand-out track “Lotus Flower” with some impressive dance moves from a disheveled looking Thom Yorke:

Radiohead - Lotus Flower

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