Review: PJ Harvey – ‘In The Dark Places’

pjharveyTaken from her eighth studio release, ‘Let England Shake‘, this track finds the chameleon-like Polly Jean Harvey adopting a different approach entirely to her previous output. Since the commercial success of her most accessible – and her least favourite – album ‘Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea‘ in 2000, Polly appears to have been increasingly resolute about never repeating herself with subsequent output. By her own admission, this particular record has been more influenced by poets and artists than musicians, and largely evokes a country in thrall to ongoing warfare and conflict.

So, ‘In The Dark Places‘ is representative of the tone of her latest offering, in that it creates atmosphere by way of an understated, somewhat muted arrangement – middle distance guitars couched in echo, accentuated by a slightly stilted rhythm. Key to the overall effect though are Polly’s arresting vocals. She recently revealed she had to find an entirely new voice within her to do this particular set of songs justice, and it’s certainly effective. With the vocals mixed high against the fuzzy strings, Polly’s delivery is high and keening, which gives the song a creeping sense of dread while also sounding coolly detached.

With the assistance of legendary producer Flood, Polly appears to be embracing a kind of electrified English folk with this track, a genre which has been revitalised of late by the likes of Laura Marling. However, it’s fair to say that Polly – like all the best artists – seems to have created an idiosyncratic yet restless style which now defies comparison. Indeed, the only thing the album from which this track is taken has in common with other PJ Harvey records, is that it doesn’t sound like any other PJ Harvey record.

The single is also accompanied by a short film by photo-journalist Seamus Murphy, contacted by Harvey to contribute to the material after she saw his exhibition, A Darkness Visible: Afghanistan in 2008. Creating a series of videos for each of the twelve songs on the album, Murphy’s striking imagery of London is evocative, yet strangely oblique – much like Miss Harvey herself.

(Paddy Wells)

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