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Category Archives: pj harvey

The past, oh, month or so has been a complete musical regression to 1991-1995 for me. A few days of Bikini Kill followed by a few days of Hole. I blame this on PJ Harvey. I was really excited about the release of her collaboration with John Parish, but A Woman A Man Walked By was wildly disappointing, and highlighted for me a lot of the criticisms that are thrown at Harvey–criticisms, by the way, I’d never really agreed with until this record. But if there was such a thing as a paint-by-numbers PJ Harvey song, they existed in appalling frequency on this record.

Part of the disappointment of A Woman A Man Walked By is due to my appreciation of Harvey and Parish’s previous collaboration, Dance Hall at Louse Point, a record I previously described as being “a less-cacophonous (though still really noisy!) Sonic Youth record except with someone who can actually carry a tune.” And then this happened, talk about kismet! Every reaction I’ve ever had about Sonic Youth can be summed up by “Bull in the Heather,” by far my favorite SY song insofar as it sounds exactly what I want out of the band (or any rock band, for that matter) while also summing up exactly what I don’t want out of that band (or any rock band).

I love the sound of Sonic Youth, and what makes me love “Bull in the Heather” is the first thirty seconds–those absolutely filthy opening notes followed by the driving riff. It is one of my favorite thirty seconds of music in the entire 1990s, and I’m sure it has a lot to do with the age I was when this song came out, but it sonically captures post-puberty adolescence: all hormonal angst and burgeoning eroticism that is mysterious and terrifying but blatantly full of desire. It’s a shame that no one in this band can sing. And any kind of aural boner I get from the music in “Bull in the Heather” is immediately shrunken by that off-key ice queen singing about thrusting. Like following the perfect ass through the crowd only to have the person turn around looking horrendous. (And that video! Thurston feeding a banana to a horse? YUCK. Though it suggests that Kim Gordon has equine features, which is correct. And teenage hero Kathleen Hanna jumping around all annoying-like! Just throw a bucket of cold water onto my groin next time, thanks)

It’s a shame about Sonic Youth’s vocals, because there aren’t too many records that sound like them in the first place, capturing that waddayacallit–art rock New York post-punk deconstruction? In a way that sounds erotic and dirty and frightening and alluring, but with someone who can carry a tune or otherwise turn their voice into a fascinating sonic component. Which is why Dance Hall at Louse Point means what it does to me, with it’s slinkily loud guitar riffs supporting Harvey’s delicious melodramatics, as well as Hole’s Pretty on the Inside. I said I was listening to a lot of Hole, right? It’s no coincidence that Kim Gordon co-produced POTI, and Courtney Love and Eric Erlandson almost perfectly capture the guitar textures and driving riffs of Sonic Youth while under the influence of grindcore before shrinking in the face of Courtney Love’s inimitable scream. I wish there was more music like this.

Oh yay. Dance Hall at Louse Point is one of my favorite PJ Harvey releases, partly because it somehow has always reminded me of a less-cacophonous (though still really noisy!) Sonic Youth record except with someone who can actually carry a tune. Oh yeah, there are tunes also. I don’t like Sonic Youth, sorry, and part of why “Bull in the Heather” is my favorite SY song is that the music sounds incredibly sexy and also there’s a LUDICROUS video wherein Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna annoys the shit out of everyone, foreshadowing! (Full disclosure: Kathleen Hanna was one of my teenage heroes and I hugged her once, she is tiny)

Dance Hall is one of her least-lauded records, which may be due to the fact that it’s not a “proper” PJ Harvey release but rather a collaboration with John Parish. It was also deemed a slight placeholder between To Bring You My Love, which destroyed everybody, and Is This Desire? The latter was seen as a slight disappointment to both critics and fans, focusing less on the guitar-based catharsis of her predecessors for electronic-based storytelling (the same reaction would meet 2007’s White Chalk, except this time with piano, and I daresay both Is This Desire? and White Chalk are remarkably better records than those in between them).

In some ways, you can see Dance Hall as the bridge between To Bring You My Love and the rest of her work, a real turning point in a career of shifts and morphs and left turns. While Dance Hall includes the blues-based structures of TBYML, it eschews its archetypes–as well as the sui generis volatility of her first two records–in favor of character studies, which would directly influence the songs on Is This Desire? Perhaps writing only the lyrics freed Harvey, as Parish wrote all the music, to match someone else’s muses.

The record also contains one of her best-ever (seriously like top three) vocal performances in “Taut,” a Satanically deranged monologue of obsessed desire delivered over sexy churning noisy guitars (this must be where the Sonic Youth thing came about) until the chorus blasts off into the stratosphere of desperate religious fervor, but you know it’s just cynical and futile in the end.

Anyway, if I can expect more of that then yes please thank you Miss Polly.