White Chalk

Beautiful, arcane, unsettling – and that’s only the cover. White Chalk isn’t so much a record, as a great effort at dragging you into another world.

We can safely predict that Top Shop won’t be asking PJ Harvey to design a clothes range once they see the cover of White Chalk.

She’s always had a Kevin Rowland-esque knack for using each new record to introduce a startling new visual detour. But this time, Polly’s come up with her most esoteric look yet. Is she wearing a wedding dress, you wonder, or a shroud? Is she looking straight down the lens? Or does her gaze wander off-camera? And who is it she reminds you of? One of Whistler’s portraits? Lizzie Borden? Emily Dickinson? Estella from Great Expectations? Or, even more chillingly, is it one of those eerie mortuary slab pics of the victims of Jack The Ripper?

Beautiful, arcane, unsettling – and that’s only the cover. From the off, you should know that White Chalk isn’t so much a record, as a great virtuoso effort at dragging you into another world.

Of course, anyone who has heard the lead single, ‘When Under Ether’, will already be aware of this. We’ve become used to supposedly alternative musicians chasing the big cross-over buck in recent years. By reintroducing herself after a three-year absence with a ghostly piano ballad about a clandestine abortion, Peej really couldn’t make it any clearer that she doesn’t care to share a dressing room with Girls Aloud.

It’s entirely in keeping with a record dominated by the cob-webbed creeks of Harvey’s piano; Jim White’s subtle, padded drums; and a gas-lit lyrical atmosphere that, never mind the 21st century, barely takes the 20th under its notice.

Fans should be warned. There is barely a hint of a guitar, never mind a power chord or chugging blues riff. Meanwhile, Polly’s voice has undergone a radical change. She sounds like Vashti Bunyan in places. Or Joanna Newsom’s stranger sister. It’s childish, slightly catatonic, heavily Gothic.

Likewise, there’s an Absolute Zero quality to the arrangements. They’re sparse to the point of invisibility; chilly, archaic and spare. But mistake all this for emotional detachment at your peril. If anything, the closer you get to the heart of these songs, the more likely they are to burn you.

Take the Blair Witch nursery rhyme, ‘Grow Grow Grow’ – “Teach me mummy/How to grow/How to catch someone’s fancy/under the twisted oak”; or ‘To Talk To You’, which is a towering sister-piece to Sinéad’s version of ‘I Am Stretched On Your Grave'.

The biggest compliment I could pay most of these songs is that they sound as if Harvey has unearthed rather than written them.

To these ears, the record it resembles most is Talk Talk frontman Mark Hollis’ solo album – a bleached-out masterpiece that sounded like it had been made in a hole and then buried for a century. White Chalk is just as other-worldly and equally as beguiling.

What the wider world will make of it is anybody’s guess. But for anyone partial to those glowering, distracted, once-in-a-career records that stand apart from the rest of their maker’s canon – The Holy Bible, for example, Here, My Dear, Don’t Stand Me Down, The Magical World of The Strands, Sister Lovers – White Chalk will prove unmissable.

It’s without doubt PJ Harvey’s most magical record in a decade.

In fact, dip the lights low enough, and it may even be the most enthralling thing she’s ever released.

 

Related Articles

LISTEN: PJ Harvey Previews New Song

The Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea singer is back.

Read More

First Lineups for Field Day London Announced

PJ Harvey, Four Tet, and Beach House are among the acts announced

Read More

Listen: PJ Harvey's song for Guantanamo prisoner

Her new single 'Shaker Aamer' is streaming on Soundcloud.

Read More

PJ Harvey & Lenny Abrahamson for Borris Writing Festival

John Boyne, Ben Anderson and Paolo Tullio are also among those appearing...

Read More

PJ Harvey scoops Hot Press Album Of The Year

Let England Shake has been voted 2011's best.

Read More

PJ Harvey wins Mercury Prize

She picked it up for her Let England Shake masterpiece

Read More

Let England Shake - review

As PJ Harvey celebrates her Mercury win, we've dug out our original review of the album.

Read More

PJ Harvey's 'The Glorious Land' is this issue's Single of the Fortnight..

We've also reviewed tracks by Daithí, The Chakras, Eddie Vedder and many more...

Read More

The Glorious Land

Read More

Listen to new albums by PJ Harvey and Bright Eyes

Double streaming delight for a dreary Tuesday...

Read More

Let England Shake

Eight Albums In And PJ Keeps Getting Better

Read More

New PJ Harvey video

Watch 'The Last Living Rose’ here

Read More

Hear a brand new PJ Harvey track here

It’s taken from her forthcoming album Let England Shake

Read More

PJ Harvey at the Olympia, Dublin

"She performs naturally. She’s lost the rock ‘n’ roll poses she’d been toying with on previous tours."

Read More

Series of dreams

West Country girl Polly Harvey continues to protect her art with all her heart.

Read More

PJ Harvey to play Dublin's Olympia

PJ Harvey has announced a pre-Christmas date in the capital.

Read More

Please Leave Quietly

Too many live albums are about the stuff that didn’t actually get captured on tape: the ritual, the lights, the t-shirt, the bog roll, the bar tab. Please Leave Quietly is about music, sufficient unto itself.

Read More

PJ Harvey for Electric Picnic

There’s joyous news for Polly Jean Harvey fans with the singer confirmed for a solo slot at the Electric Picnic.

Read More

Peter Murphy: Pyramids of Trash

2004 was a year of infotainment overload when popular culture became increasingly co-opted to the business of selling. But there were those precious few, who remained faithful to the idea of art for its own sake.

Read More

Shame

Third singles off albums are notoriously tricky affairs (if you’re not Justin Timberlake) and Uh Huh Her is certainly not stacked with unforgettable pop songs.

Read More

Live review from The Olympia, Dublin

Here she comes, all foxified up in green heels and a red dress so tight you can almost guess her phase of the moon.

Read More

PJ Harvey adds second Dublin date

Tickets are now on sale for an August 31 date at the Olympia

Read More

PJ Harvey is coming back for more

Tickets for PJ Harvey 's September dates go on sale today!

Read More

Girl, Uninterrupted

Strikingly beautiful, as self-possessed as a cat, and happier in her own skin than ever before – uh huh, it’s her, PJ Harvey

Read More

The Letter

Polly’s lusty falsetto shriek, compounded with a snarling guitar riff, results in a three-minute visceral thrill, and a wonderful return to form for one of rock’s true deities.

Read More

Uh Huh Her

There are artists who operate as holistics and healers, lifting the spirit, rousing the body. Then there are the pathologists and post-mortemizers that map the anatomy of cancers.

Read More

The Letter

The long awaited first single from the forthcoming album – her first in three years – finds Polly Jane as uncompromisingly left-field and abrasive as ever.

Read More

NEWSFLASH! P.J. Harvey

Polly Jean joins the Chilis, Foos and Queens on the Slane bill

Read More

New York state of mind

P.J. HARVEY's latest album, Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea will surprise listeners with its positive spirit and sheer lust for life. Hell, she even manages to get Thom Yorke to sound like Tom Jones! KIM PORCELLI meets an artist who has come in from the cold

Read More

Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea

As the title suggests, Harvey’s sixth album has an urban/rural duality, but the edges remain blurred within the combination of themes and music.

Read More

A Perfect Day Elise

P.J. Harvey: ‘A Perfect Day Elise’ (Island)

Read More

Down By The Water

PJ Harvey: “Down By The Water” (Island)

Read More

4 Track Demos

PJ HARVEY: "4 Track Demos" (Island)

Read More
 

Advertise With Us


For information including benefits, key facts, figures and rates for advertising with Hot Press, click below

Advertise

Find us elsewhere