PJ Harvey last year turned in what was one of the best 30 minutes of music that occurred in 2007. “White Chalk” was a complete change shifting the emphasis from guitar to piano and with it PJ crafted some of the most simplistic yet haunting songs I’ve heard in a while.
“The Devil” is about as close to her previous music as she gets with the almost b-movie horror sound that comes across. Singing in a whispery high pitched voice, it’s innocence juxtaposes the downbeat drama that surrounds it and makes for compelling listening. “Dear Darkness” showcases the minimal element of the album with great use of male backing vocals to add bass into the song. “Grow Grow Grow” ends the opening trilogy of desperate shril songs in great fashion with PJ’s wailing to discorded notes in an album highlight.
“When Under Ether” signals the more subtle slant of the album. This intricate song was the first single and despite clocking in just over two minutes it packs a hefty punch with a catchy hook. “White Chalk” uses distanced vocals to give an almost sea shanty to the death tone worthy of being the title track while “Broken Harp” is over before it’s begun but has an evil vocal section in the middle which makes up for it.
Into the latter section which picks up the pace for a dash of despair. “Silence” is a stand out with its simple piano and light percussive sound. PJ’s vocals here are fantastic. “Talk To You” slows it down again before “The Piano” takes you in with its harrowing lyrics, dark moments and carefully constructed rising tension making it my favourite on the album. “Before Departure” is the twin of “Dear Darkness” in style. The mesmerizing “The Mountain” concludes with a piano/vocal piece that will have you either shrieking uncontrollably at the top of your voice or teary-eyed with fraught sadness.
Alternative to its core, “White Chalk” isn’t for the faint hearted. Many Harvey fans have hailed it as one of her best so if you are already a fan, you need this yesterday. New fans may do best to start elsewhere and work towards it as it may scare you off from a catalogue of genius that you just need to warm to.