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PJ Harvey & John Parish – “A Man A Woman Walked By” Review

After the ethereal “White Chalk”, PJ is back with grungy guitars and screaming moans of anger with her latest album “A Man A Woman Walked By”, which marks her second collaboration with John Parish. Just like “Dance Hall At Louse Point”, Parish is right on PJ’s musical wavelength with discordant guitar riffs, strange production values and creating musical wonderment for PJ to work her lyrical wax with.

Single “Black Hearted Love” opens with a 90’s PJ song with wailing guitars and a final minute that is to die for as the instruments gradually build and build to a downplayed finale. It’s both catchy and almost anti-single like however its possibly the most commercial song on the album. The guitar riff is ear piercingly exquisite.

“Sixteen Fifteen Fourteen” is much more representative of the album to come with its banjo’esque lead instrument sounding purposefully detuned and therefore like a deranged clown on a mission to kill. Add to that PJ counting backwards and screaming “Erica’s Coming” like a frenzied banshee and you have a cracking track. Think “Shame” but unhinged.

“Leaving California” harks back to White Chalk with Harvey’s high pitched strained vocals and minimalistic approach. It reminds me a bit of “Ballad of the Soldiers Wife” with its chug along waltz percussion. Perfectly abandoned and utterly unique. In stark contrast “The Chair” is a two and half minute frenzy. Free flow drum rolls and churning guitars are at the forefront while Harvey lets rip in the middle makes this song a controlled edgy piece of genius. “April” is a slow ballad with plenty of organs and heart breaking vocal talent. As if drawing out every last tear from a tissue when ringing it, this song will take you down in flames.

“A Man A Woman Walked By / The Crow Knows Where All The Children Go” is a fantastic song. The chorus chanting “I want his fucking ass” is an experience to behold and is made all the more enjoyable by PJ’s “angry country farmer man” accent. The music also goes off on its own and ends up with some quirky and ingenious studio trickery by fading in and out various instruments. I can see this being some fans favourite and being on repeat for quite a while.

“The Soldier” is a brother to Leaving California with its production and overall sound but this is more together. The echoing piano and the quiet instruments in the background add a real atmosphere to the vocals and sets up this very sad song.

On any PJ album there is one song that falls under the title “freak out”. “Pig Will Not” is that song. Three minutes of screaming PJ? Check! Manic guitars? Check! This will have fans in raptures in a way that PJ hasn’t done for a while. Screaming “I Will Not” at all angles from the speakers has never been so fun, and the last segment is interesting where the song sounds like you’re listening to the song from outside the studio door but the piano is next to you.

“Passionless, Pointless” is sublime track with its keyboards and smooth bass. It’s not laid back but there’s an disorganised heaven hiding behind the harsh exterior. A potential single perhaps? “Cracks in the Canvas” closes the album with a short lullaby story that is like spoken prayer /poem over angelic backing vocals and broken guitar.

PJ Harvey and John Parish have simply done it again. Raucous, rocky, random and angelic all wound into a sound scape of two artists who refuse to flex from they believe in. This is 2009’s first essential dip into the world of the weird and wonderful. Enjoy and bask whilst shounting “I Will Not”…

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