Author: David

Fuse, Fuse Music TV, or Fusic TV as I like to call it, has a quick 4+ minute overview of the Portland music scene. Yes, they only talk to some of the bigger names in town like The Thermals, Menomena, and Colin Meloy of the Decemberists, but it’s not as cringe-worthy as the first episode of Portlandia. Are you an indie band in need of a town? C’mon down (or up) … I guess we can make room for one or two more.

As the host says, “Welcome to Portland Oregon, where people come to enjoy the great outdoors and the sound of nature. SCREW THAT, LET’S ROCK!” Thanks to Portland Mercury’s Blogtown for the heads-up.

PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
Vagrant Records | February 2011

Polly Jean Harvey has never been an artist cautious in her approach, or particularly concerned with what her listeners might think of her sound. She’s been making her own path in the music world since her debut album, Dry for which Rolling Stone called the then-22-year-old Harvey the year’s Best Songwriter and Best New Female Singer. Raw, emotionally-bare, experimental, shocking, but always beautiful, even when the guitars are shredding and the drums are blasting like cannons. Her follow-up, Rid of Me took the back-and-forth of sober beauty and rock bombast to new heights – loud-soft-loud-soft was the sound of the 90s.

Since 1993, PJ Harvey has been recording as a solo artist (without her original trio) but often with songwriting partner, John Parrish and producer Flood. Her latest album is no exception, but instead of a recording in a studio, it was recorded live in a medieval church in Dorset, England. The location adds a haunting spaciousness to the album.

The other addition to the mix is multi-instrumentalist, Mick Harvey (no relation) a founding member of The Birthday Party, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, Crime and the City Solution and his own solo band. He has an incredible ability to play just the right sounds in just the right spots, loud or quiet. When I look through my album collection, seeing his name in the credits is almost always a guarantee of quality music. Of course, I can say the same thing about PJ Harvey, and I sometimes think of her as the female Nick Cave, another artist who can straddle genres and make timeless works that often explores the dark side of the human soul. Of course, PJ Harvey has worked with both Nick Cave and Mick Harvey numerous times before.

There’s been much spoken in the media about the themes of this album being war, inhumanity and murder, and the way they are sung about in a sometimes girlish sing-song voice with melodies and instrumentation to match. Harvey herself has said that she had done a great deal of research into war, particularly the campaign in Galipoli, but not all of the lyrics are strictly about England’s participation in global conflicts. At times the album sounds like an elegy for the entire modern world. On “The Last Living Rose,” her high, restrained voice seems to rise above the now and become timeless, almost like someone looking back at our society from a bleak and burned-out future. Many of the songs unfurl with a fiery impassioned wail from Harvey that speaks of pain and loss, and maybe thoughts of what could have been.

While many of the songs seem simple at first, they slowly reveal a depth and clarity that can only have been brought forth from an artist in complete control of her craft, having perfected it over the last 20 years. When PJ Harvey and John Parish sing the call-and-response of, “What is the glorious fruit of our land? The fruit is England’s children” it sounds at once like a gospel chant, a lament, a nursery rhyme, and a hymn. Or maybe a workingman’s folk-song from a by-gone time.

Polly Jean Harvey has created a sad, yet beautiful album, wherein she pushes her voice bravely in a way that sounds neither false nor pretentious, even when at its emotional rawest, or at its most conceptually constrained. I was listening to the album for the third time while watching an online slideshow of the massive protests in Egypt that removed Mubarek, and it created a perfect emotional pairing that brought a bit of a tear to my eyes. Different geographical settings, but very similar emotions.

Smells Like:

Here are my selections for Best Albums of 2010 based not so much on what I think should be the best, but what resonated with me and “stuck around” more, causing repeated listening. There were many recordings put out this year that are technically marvelous, interesting and challenging. So, maybe this list should be called my “Favorite Albums of 2010” instead and, because of that, they tend to be a bit more “pop.”

  • New Pornographers – Together
  • Beach House – Teen Dream
  • Broken Bells – s/t
  • MGMT – Congratulations
  • Superchunk – Majesty Shredding
  • Grinderman – Grinderman 2
  • Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest
  • LCD Soundsystem – This is Happening
  • Maximum Balloon – s/t
  • Unkle – Where Did the Night Fall
  • Gorillaz – Plastic Beach
  • Spoon – Transference
  • Surfer Blood – Astrocoast
  • Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
  • The National – High Violet
  • Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky
  • Crystal Castles – s/t
  • Laura Veirs – July Flame
  • Les Savy Fav – Root for Ruin
  • Massive Attack – Hegioland

Honorable Mentions: !!!, Eluvium, Yeasayer, Ruby Suns, Brian Eno, Janell Monàe, Arcade Fire, Cee-lo Green, Los Campesinos, Four Tet, First Aid Kit, Belle & Sebastian, Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan, Joanna Newsom, Robert Wyatt-Gilad Atzmon-Ros Stephen, Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffitti, Foals (liking more and more), Sufjan Stevens, Broken Social Scene, The Black Keys, Titus Andronicus, and Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings.

If you’re like me (David Bailey), you’re probably wondering what gave me pause to hit the “star ratings” button on iTunes this year. Well, wonder no more, my star-obsessed friend! Here’s a list of songs that were in heavy rotation on my office speakers this year, divided by genre for your perusal.

Of the rock-n-roll type (including pop rock):

  • Superchunk – Fractures in Plaster
  • MGMT – Brian Eno
  • Spoon – Written in Reverse
  • Grinderman – Heathen Child
  • The Apples in Stereo – Next Year at About the Same Time
  • Best Coast – The End
  • Beach House – Zebra
  • Clinic  – Orangutan
  • Los Campesinos – Romance is Boring
  • Fang Island – Life Coach
  • The Ruby Suns – Dusty Fruit
  • Arcade Fire – Empty Room
  • Queens of the Stoneage – Monsters in the Parasol
  • UNKLE (feat. Blank Angels) – Natural Selection
  • The National – Afraid of Everyone
  • New Pornographers – Silver Jenny Dollar
  • Broken Social Scene – Sentimental X’s
  • Black Keys – Everlasting Light
  • Ariel Pink – Menopause Man
  • Belle and Sebastian – I Want the World to Stop
  • Belle and Sebastian – I’m Not Living in the Real World
  • School of Seven Bells – Joviann
  • Le Savy Fav – Let’s Get of Here
  • Robert Wyatt, Gilad Atzmon & Ros Stephen – What a Wonderful World
  • Spoon – Out Go the Lights

Of the danceable variety:

  • Crystal Castles – Year of Silence
  • Maximum Balloon – Tiger
  • !!! – Steady as the Sidewalk Cracks
  • Foals – After Glow
  • Delorian – Stay Close
  • LCD Soundsystem – Drunk Girls
  • Gorillaz – Superfast Jellyfish
  • Janell Monàe – Tightrope
  • Cee Lo Green – F@#k You!
  • Broken Bells – The Ghost Inside
  • Massive Attack (feat. Martina Topley-Bird) – Babel
  • Caribou – Odessa
  • Chromeo – I’m Not Contagious
  • Sleigh Bells – Riot Rhythm

Of the Country-rock style:

  • First Aid Kit – Hard Believer
  • Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan – Time of the Season

Of the Electronic / Ambient sound:

  • Four Tet – This Unfolds
  • Eluvium – Cease to Know
  • Brian Eno – Late Anthropocene
  • Eluvium – Similies

Undulating, padded guitars and hints of echoing percussion lull the listener into thinking that this may be another album in the mold of Eno’s Music for Films. Nice. Then abruptly the songs take on the seeming structures of rock and pop from his Here Come the Warm Jets period. Yes! But, that was just another feint in a different direction, as the “songs” take on a lovely and spaced-out electronic/trance shape. But, what’s this? Raw electric guitar slicing through on “2 Forms of Anger”. Yet, as one would expect from the man who brought African rhythms and song structure to pop music via the Talking Heads and his collaborations with David Byrne and others, it still doesn’t sound like traditional Western music. The rhythms are trance-inducing and the melody is almost completely ethereal.

Each subsequent track is like an exploratory scouting party, moving forward, and then just when you get comfortable, the tones and style shift direction. “Dust Shuffle” locks into a nice groove that is here and gone in just under two minutes! The remainder of the album is made up of soundscapes much like the beginning that sound like no place on this planet. Rumbling tones reverberate with a sense of loneliness, while muted piano and percussion treatments echo in-and-out of the Abstract Expressionist sound paintings — familiar to fans of Eno, yet welcome and beautiful as new works of art from a master of the form.

Smells like: 8/10

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