Archive for May, 2016


pj-harvey

Whenever an artist goes on tour, every fan is coming up with her or his own personal wishlist of what songs they want to hear. There are the expected hits and the new album tracks, but what else will be performed? Will there be a live debut of an old album track? Will a b-side be brushed off for the first time in a decade? These are the songs that deserve a comeback. This is “Play It Live!”

With her new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey is set to embark on her first tour in four years. Now on her ninth album, there are tons of songs that are due for a resurgence. Given the heavier and rougher vibe found on her latest LP, some of her older, blues and punk-inspired tracks may fit better with the new material than Let England Shake. With her tour set to kick off in France on June 1, here are 10 songs that I hope will make an appearance.

A Perfect Day Elise
Last Played In: 2004
Is This Desire? is one of Harvey’s most underrated works and A Perfect Day Elise is one of the record’s masterpieces. With an almost beatbox rhythm and shimmering guitar, it signaled an evolution from the in-your-face blues of To Bring You My Love. When Harvey rises above the claustrophobic musical atmosphere for the chorus, it’s an instantly memorable moment. Many casual fans may not be familiar with this song or this record. A comeback here would give Harvey a chance to fix that.

Good Fortune
Last Played In: 2010
It’s no surprise to anyone going to a PJ Harvey show that it can get a bit intense, particularly given the lyrical source of the last two albums. So, what better way to add a sense of relief than with this pop-rock song that is one of the catchiest Harvey has ever written. With lines about Chinatown, Little Italy and the like, it should at least make an appearance when she plays New York City.

Legs
Last Played In: 2003
A weird, distorted mess that’s insanely captivating. That’s the best way to describe this Rid of Me track. There’s a reason it kept popping up in Harvey’s live show for 10 years. The vocal, which has her screaming, crying, yodeling and ripping her voice apart, may be tough for Harvey to pull off nowadays, but in the right spot, it could be a devastating throwback to her early days.

Long Snake Moan
Last Played In: 1995
How has this song been missing from Harvey’s set for so long? To put it simply, it fucking rocks. With an incredibly-fuzzed out groove and a leathery vocal, it’s easily one of the most overlooked pieces in her catalog. Given that Harvey brought the distorted guitars back for her latest album, there’s no reason why this song shouldn’t return with them. Did I mention that it fucking rocks?

Shame
Last Played In: 2010
This Uh Huh Her track is all about Harvey’s delivery, jumping from a deep growl to a high-pitched, panicked yelp. In the meantime, guitar chords form a taut rhythm and a harmonica jitters along. This would be a great, quick pick to slow things down while keeping a crowd’s rapt attention.

Who the Fuck?
Last Played In: 2010
The Hope Six Demolition Project contains some of the heaviest and most aggressive songs she’s written since Uh Huh Her. So what better time to revive the kiss-off of Who the Fuck? With a squawking guitar riff that almost sounds out-of-tune and Harvey’s curse-laden rant, it’s a fan favorite that will get anyone’s blood pressure rising. Her last two albums deal some weighty themes. Give the crowd and band a chance to shake the spectre off.

The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore
Last Played In: 2010
While much of The Hope Six Demolition Project focuses on war-torn locations like Kosovo and Afghanistan, a good portion of the record looks at the social strife found in Washington D.C. Given that most of Harvey’s discography focuses more on the personal and has only recently swung political, let’s split the difference with this abrasive track from Stories From The City, Stories From The City. Among violence, drug abuse and greed, Harvey reaches out for a human connection. The message fits her new album, and would fit a current setlist, perfectly.

The Wind
Last Played In: 1998
This single from Is This Desire? hasn’t appeared since it’s initial run. That’s a shame, as it has a palpable tension, driven by Harvey’s whispering throughout the song. The vocal matches the chapel imagery, as if she’s almost alone in a church and knows anything above a whisper will reveal her confession to strangers. This track would fit right alongside the spiritual hymn of River Anacostia from her last LP.

Working for the Man
Last Played In: 2004
With a slinking, shaking bass line and a creepy guitar melody, this is definitely one of Harvey’s creepiest numbers. Her half-whispered, half-moaned vocals only add to sense of foreboding, like she’s trying to get you to lean in and listen, but you’re scared of what will happen if you do. Maybe such a quiet, offputting piece won’t work for a festival. But for a club? All Harvey needs to do is turn out the lights, play the song and let the crowd’s imagination do the rest.

You Come Through
Last Played In: 2004
With a clattering, naturalistic rhythm and an accordion humming in the background, this is one of Uh Huh Her’s most unexpected treasures. It truly sounds unique in Harvey’s catalog. With so many songs to choose from for a live set, it makes sense to bring back one that truly stands alone in instrumentation and vibe.

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This article first appeared at No Ripcord on May 23, 2016.

MoonShapedPool

A Moon Shaped Pool is a masterpiece. Let’s just get that out of the way. After The King of Limbs left something to be desired and band members were off on various projects, it was questionable whether Radiohead would retain the level of focus that it had in the past. Thankfully, those worries are unfounded, as the group’s ninth album is in the top-tier of their discography. A Moon Shaped Pool is also a dense listen that gives back what you put into it. Like Kid A and Amnesiac, the first listen may seem impenetrable in places. But over time, some of the band’s best melodies reveal themselves, like diamonds discovered in a mix of organic and electronic instruments.

A Moon Shaped Pool is a definitive mood album as well, but the emotions expressed vary immensely from song to song. Decks Dark and Desert Island Disk are gentle and warm psych-folk. “It was just a laugh,” Thom Yorke sings on the former, over a light piano segment that transitions into a heavier pattern, with rattling guitar chords echoing into space. The latter has a Neil Young vibe, with an acoustic melody made for an arid desert at sunset. “The wind rushing round my open heart/An open ravine,” Yorke says, before admitting in relief that “different types of love are possible.”  The Numbers, likely to go down as one of the only good songs about environmentalism, combines many of the band’s best elements. An acoustic rhythm guitar glides next to a submerged piano melody, Yorke moves from a laid-back vocal to his ghostly falsetto and hopeful strings burst out to support a declaration that we will “take back what is ours.” Even if a song appears to be soothing at first glance, the band never lets you get too comfortable. The Present Tense‘s guitar work borrows from bossanova music, a feathery touch that pulls you into Yorke’s words, but the tune unexpectedly builds to a backing choir that whirls by like wind in a valley.

Then, of course, there are the tracks that ratchet up the tension to a harrowing degree. After mastering the guitar and the Ondes Martenot, Jonny Greenwood charges forward with his orchestral work on the most anxious tracks of A Moon Shaped Pool. On the “low-flying panic attack” of Burn the Witch, the collegno strings create an agitated rhythm for Yorke’s lyrics against groupthink. When he sings, “we know where you live,” the strings swoop down into the abyss, drowning out all else. The paranoia is equally palpable on the watery piano ballad of Glass Eyes, where Yorke is frightened by faces of “concrete grey.” Shrill strings momentarily rise up before fading back, like a hand nearly grabbing an unsuspecting person from behind.  Ful Stop charges forward with a low-humming bass groove and alien synths, always staying on the edge of exploding, but never losing its taut restraint. Yorke’s stutters out lines like “You really messed up everything,” “Take me back again” and “Truth will mess you up”  over and over, trying to give his words power through sheer repetition. On Identikit, which pulls off Paranoid Android‘s trick of being three songs in one, Yorke explores betrayal, frustration and “broken hearts” that “make it rain.” As his vocal changes in intensity, the music moves with him, going from an off-kilter rhythm to the best earworm chorus on the album to a squiggly guitar solo.

Many of these songs can be interpreted around Yorke’s recent separation with his long-time partner Rachel Owen. While a few tracks pre-date the end of that relationship, they still fit into that framework, creating a lyrical theme that pops up throughout the record. But two songs fit into Yorke’s lost relationship more than any others and without surprise, they are the two most direct and devastating tracks on the album. Daydreaming, with its effortless, gorgeous piano line, wrings every drop of pathos out of each note played and each word sung. “The damage is done,” Yorke remarks in defeat. As the track closes, the keys are buried under a haunted mix of cello and reverse vocals that echo out, “Half of my life,” the length of Yorke’s relationship with Owen. It’s fitting then that A Moon Shaped Pool ends with a song that’s been around nearly as long. True Love Waits, with keys replacing the acoustic guitar of early live versions, is one of Yorke’s best moments as a songwriter, a fan favorite that lives up to its reputation. The longing behind every iteration of “Just don’t leave” is relatable to nearly everyone, a universal theme that Yorketaps into like few others can. It’s the perfect ending for an equally perfect album.

With A Moon Shaped Pool, Radiohead didn’t reinvent the wheel, but instead crafted an emotionally resonant, musically unexpected and richly rewarding album. It’s mind-boggling how a band can keep up such a level of artistry after almost 30 years together. But by taking various elements from not only their collective past, but also the work they’ve done separately, Radiohead has created something wholly new and utterly entrancing. They’ve done it again.

10/10