Boomkat Product Review:
PJ Harvey seventh album, released in 2007 and now reissued.
The bareness and unembellished arrangements of White Chalk are a far cry from what we've come to expect of PJ Harvey. Even the primitive guitar dirges of Uh Huh Her, though presenting a streamlined version of Harvey's sound, still resounded with the full-blooded howl of her signature sound. Denying herself the comforts of any familiar sound palette or even a familiar vocal register, Harvey has assembled a set of songs that find her sounding fragile, vulnerable and haunted, making White Chalk a far more intense listen than its soft dynamics might lead you to believe.
The spooky, Broadcast-style '60s caricaturing of 'The Devil' comes as a bit of a shock given the near-falsetto intonation of Harvey's voice. 'Grow Grow Grow' has a similarly gothic quality to it, filled with spiralling keystrokes and mournful vocals. The lyrics match the near-uncomfortable intimacy of the music, with 'When Under Ether' providing an especially striking illustration of this - there's a real, tangible bleakness to these songs that someone like Marissa Nadler could learn a thing or two from: Harvey can evoke a very real sense of darkness without having to get too literal or plunder Edgar Allan Poe.
The detuned weirdness of 'Broken Harp' provides another highlight, with Harvey accompanied by (as the title makes plain) a harp that could use some urgent maintenance. This oddly decrepit feel is echoed by the quivering piano on 'To Talk To You', a piece that seems to hang together under the most precarious of arrangements, the drums shuffling along with an odd detachment. White Chalk is sure to divide opinion amongst PJ Harvey's fanbase, but fifteen or so years into her career she could hardly have conceived a bolder, more daringly self-exposing album.