White Chalk is Pj Harvey's eighth studio album and first new material since 2004's critically acclaimed Uh Huh Her. Pj Harvey went into the studio late last year to record and produce with Flood and John Parish. The three had worked together previously on the Grammy nominated To Bring You My Love and on Is This Desire? White Chalk also includes musical contributors from Harvey's long time associate Eric Drew Feldman, and Jim White from The Dirty Three.
This carnival ride to the netherworld of the soul is PJ Harvey's most dizzyingly radical work since the raw pulse and grind of her 1993 debut. It's also entirely different. Harvey's created an emotionally fractured Gothic fairytale that rides on her spare, tattered piano playing and her voice, which she turns into a fragile siren's call: high, airy, and imperiled, and made otherworldly by a labyrinth of echo. Instead of pop tunes, Harvey offers an 11-song cycle that's the metaphorical story of a breakup in which the Devil, a drug-induced nightmare, and a seemingly bottomless pit of despair all play a part. At the end, in "The Mountain," her banshee wails conclude a journey so oblique it's worthy of David Lynch or Neil Gaiman. Flood, who co-produced Harvey's 1998 epic rock breakthrough Is This Desire?
with her, reprises that role, but White Chalk
is more chamber music--and a dark chamber at that. --Ted Drozdowski