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Friday, August 19, 2016

Mike's Picks #7

PJ Harvey - The Hope Six Demolition Project
 On her new album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey continues where she left off on 2011's acclaimed Let England Shake.  While that album focused on the history of war within her homeland, this new record takes her outside of her usual comfort zone (if her usual zone could be called comfortable), giving stark glimpses of a world torn apart by violence and poverty.  It's an interesting shift in focus for an artist who has spent the better part of the last two decades making some of the most personal records in rock, but it is a welcome one.

Like it's predecessor, Demolition is a collaboration between Harvey and war photographer Seamus Murphy.  The pair spent time in Kosovo, Washington D.C. and Afghanistan doing interviews and getting a sense of the devastation.  The introspective lyrics found on previous records like Rid of Me and White Chalk are replaced with something more akin to journalism.  The best example of this is with the opening track "The Community of Hope," a damning portrayal of gentrification gone wrong in Washington D.C.'s Ward 7.  The word "hope" may as well be replaced with "false promises" as the song ends with the chant of "They're gonna put a Walmart here."  It got her in some hot water with some D.C. politicians, who were unhappy with her less than positive portrayal of the nation's capital.  Like a true investigative journalist, she has gotten on the bad side of the people in power.

But what about the music?  Much of the press on the album was about it's lyrical content, but it goes nowhere without quality songs, and there are plenty to be found here.  She continues the direction she started with Let England Shake, mixing elements of rock, jazz, blues and gospel, but with more focus on heavier, almost Morphine style back beats and droning, middle eastern horn parts.  She isn't reinventing the wheel here, just tightening some screws.  Because of this, Demolition feels like a companion piece of Shake, more concise and raw, yet with a wider spectrum topically.

After years of hearing PJ Harvey pull her heart out in her music, it's a bit startling to see her turn her focus so outward on her last few albums.  What's refreshing about it is that she never goes full Green Day, making fashionable political statements wrapped in pompous rock opera grandeur.  She's merely speaking from the viewpoint of a bystander.  This album isn't here to place blame or point fingers, but it does put a mirror in the face of the world, and it's not pretty.

Key Lyrics:
A tableau of the missing
Tied to the government building
8,000 sun-bleached photographs
Faded with the roses
(From "The Wheel")

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