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Hot Press Top 30 Albums of 2011

PJ Harvey is a strong contender for the best solo artist of the past 20 years, and she has kept up her remarkable level of quality control with her latest offering, the superb Let England Shake. Harvey has explained that the writing of the album found her looking outward for the first time in her career, as opposed to focusing on mood and emotion, an approach which has dominated her previous work. This record turns out to be a paean to Harvey's homeland in all its complexity, celebrating its strengths while also examining the darker experiences the country has had in recent years, particularly the traumatic effects on the national psyche caused by the Iraq war. As ever with Harvey, the music is so tasteful it practically makes the listener purr with pleasure. The title track, which opens the record, features prominent autoharp (a rather wonderful instrument that produces a dreamy, shoegaze guitar-type sound), and sees Harvey delivering a typically powerful vocal over a dream-pop soundscape. However, she is careful to juxtapose the pastoral psychedelia with hard-hitting observations. How fitting that in the week Tony Blair offered a characteristically feeble apology for the carnage in Iraq (it was merely "regrettable", apparently), we have Harvey weighing in with the powerful "The Words That Maketh Murder", which contains imagery reminiscent of Guernica or Francis Bacon: "I've seen soldiers fall like loaves of meat...arms and legs were in the trees". Best of all is the extraordinary psych-pop number 'Written On The Forehead', which shows that the multi-talented Harvey can do chillwave better than most actual chillwave practitioners. With a lyric that documents an odyssey through some surreal landscape, the song is a close relative of Nick Cave's classic 'More News From Nowhere'. It may be only January, but Let England Shake will more than likely feature on many album of the year lists.

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