Tuesday, 28 July 2020

P J Harvey ‎– Dry (1992)

Style: Alternative Rock, Acoustic
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Too Pure, Rough Trade, Mercury

Tracklist:
01.   Oh My Lover
02.   O Stella
03.   Dress
04.   Victory
05.   Happy And Bleeding
06.   Sheela-Na-Gig
07.   Hair
08.   Joe
09.   Plants And Rags
10.   Fountain
11.   Water

Credits:
Bass – Stephen Vaughan
Drums, Vocals, Harmonium – Robert Ellis
Vocals, Guitar, Violin – PJ Harvey
Written-By – Harvey, Ellis
Producer – Head, Harvey, Ellis

If PJ Harvey had her way, she would have made her public debut on Slint’s Spiderland. At age 20 or so, she answered the Kentucky five-piece’s call for a female backing vocalist, but never heard back. In one way, you can imagine it: both subtly violent acts from their respective south, with the accents to prove it. But even at the turn of the 1990s, the idea of Polly Jean Harvey bringing up the rear is hard to fathom—her Westcountry leer would have unleashed the devil incarnate into Slint’s whispered intimations of evil. Instead, Harvey’s debut single, which came nine months after Spiderland, in December ’91, confronted the danger of fulfilling someone else’s ideal. 
Released on indie label Too Pure off the back of a mailed-in demo and John Peel’s enthusiasm, “Dress” is a young woman’s desperate and naive attempt at seduction. Where riot grrrls in the Pacific Northwest were pouring acid on the grotesque mating charade, Harvey, fresh out of her first relationship, intensified the danger by playing the willing ingenue. In the song, she struggles against femininity’s constricting bodice; Eve drowning in apples, “spilling over like a heavy loaded fruit tree.” For all her efforts, it’s the wrong outfit: “‘You purdy thang,’ my man says, ‘But I bought you beautiful dresses,’” she mimics, sneering like the creep in a western. Her “clean and sparkling” dress instantly becomes a filthy rag, her identity abject: “Better get it out of this room/A falling woman in dancing costume.” Harvey’s identity, though, was immediately forged: Funny, furious, and capable of writing hooks—the taunted “If you put it on, if you put it on”—that burned like lit fuses. 
Two months later, in February 1992, Harvey followed “Dress” with second single “Sheela-Na-Gig,” a vocal tour-de-force: wheedling as she implores a man to gaze upon her “ruby-red ruby lips,” puffed up on revulsion—or is it awe?—as he dismisses her with a comparison to the titular Celtic fertility carving that depicts deranged women spreading their engorged vulvas: Her shout of “You exhibitionist!” sounds at once like a Puritan splutter and a belly laugh__.__ She vamps through a line from South Pacific (“Gonna wash that man right outta my hair”) and has her paramor recoil at her “dirty pillows,” like the mother in Stephen King’s Carrie, reinforcing her portrayal of a young woman doomed to humiliation through mimicking the candied sexuality of films and magazines. Capable only of seeing her as virgin or whore, this guy’s dismissal is horrifying, but Harvey’s extremes make it funny, and she channels her beloved Pixies’ loud-quiet dynamic into thunderous slapstick.

After just two singles, it was obvious that Harvey didn’t fit anyone’s pre-existing rock ideals. Marrying brutal heft and deft melodies, she became Britain’s first viable answer to grunge’s iconoclasts and their underground ’80s forebears. She matched Patti Smith’s incandescence, Bessie Smith’s lasciviousness, Angela Carter’s grim subversions of feminine archetypes. She outplayed everyone on Britain’s indie circuit—the long-shorted weak piss of Carter USM, Silverfish, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin—and became an instant star. 
Her dark humor seemed to go in tandem with her Dorset upbringing, where she wrung sheep’s testicles on her parents’ farm, cropped her hair, and peed standing up to fit in with the boys. The rest of Britain has a limited understanding of the country’s south-west, perceiving it as a desolate cultural backwater. This daring, skinny thing from the sticks fearlessly singing about sex and subjugation was a media curio. She was from the tiny village of Corscombe, but where she had come from felt like a different matter altogether. 
Her background offers some clues, although nothing can really account for this shy girl’s self-possessed power. Harvey’s stonemason parents had taught her to create her own culture. Her hippy mother was fed up of missing out on live music and invited rock and blues bands down to play in the local village hall—“sixth” Rolling Stone Ian Stewart was a regular visitor to the family home. The artists earned their keep by teaching the young Harvey guitar and saxophone. She had been raised listening to Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica over dinner, and Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, which upset the very young Harvey so much it soon went out of rotation. She briefly rebelled against her parents’ tastes, embracing Duran Duran for a heartbeat in her early teens, before realizing that their record collection was golden: Howlin’ Wolf, Dylan, the Stones. Carnal music fit her extreme surroundings—the sheer Jurassic coast cliff faces and easy familiarity with death on the farm. 
After a brief stint touring Europe with Automatic Dlamini, she quit that band to pursue her own music, planning to pack it in the following year and take up her place studying sculpture at London’s Saint Martins College. The PJ Harvey Trio were undeterred when, at their first gig, the proprietor offered them money to stop playing because everyone was leaving. (They took the cash and split.) Off the back of “Dress,” Too Pure gave her £2000 (then $5000) to make an album, and she went to the Icehouse in nearby Yeovil to record with her core band, bassist Steve Vaughan and drummer Rob Ellis. 
Dry is a volcano and the scorched earth surrounding it, ripped with landsliding guitars, cowpunk mania, twisted blues, profound extremes, and power chords that hit like boulders dropped from on high. She never thought she’d have the opportunity to make a record, “so I felt like I had to get everything on it as well as I possibly could, because it was probably my only chance. It felt very extreme for that reason,” she told Filter in 2004. It was also a reaction against the “lame” music around at that time, she told The Telegraph in 2001. “I’m somebody who looks for something that’s going to shock or excite me; that really shakes me up in some way inside, so you have to stop and really take a look at what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it. And nothing was doing that for me. So I had to do it for myself.” 
From Dry’s first line, Harvey relishes in that ambiguity, forcing the listener to figure out what they’re feeling and why. “Ohhh myyy loverrr,” she rasps in her thick accent, as if seducing someone with her dying breath. She’s assuring her man that it’s fine for him to see another woman simultaneously, promising she’ll soak up his troubles while he can take whatever he likes: Her character understands that his time is limited, his satisfaction paramount, and that compromise is the fate of all women. The bass thuds like a domino line of falling oak trees, while a harmonium’s eerie whine makes the song feel like a dark, lost folk standard. 
She follows the streak of subjugation: A frenzied prayer to the Virgin Mary on “O Stella,” to guide her through the night on “Dress.” Then comes “Victory,” where she’s a post-punk Vera Lynn lustily imploring the boys to “sweat, dig—I’ll mop it right off your brow.” On the earthy lurch of “Happy and Bleeding” she loses her virginity and turns from fresh fruit to rotten peach both “long overdue” and “too early,” her “idle hole” then rejected on “Sheela-Na-Gig.” That’s the first half of Dry: blitzing the rigged path young women must walk from innocence to sullied castoff. It’s rife with disappointment and violence, but Harvey treats the double standard for the absurd cabaret it is, making perfect sense of it through her formative blues vocabulary. She plays victim in her words and aggressor with her guitar, adopting a libidinous swagger that’s as nasty and thrilling as the abuser who keeps her coming back for more. Nobody sings like PJ Harvey sings on Dry, veering perilously (but exactingly) between wheedling, raging, vamping, always with a sly wink. 
These extreme contrasts confused critics at the time: Dry played like a feminist statement but she refused the label, wondering why anyone remarked on her sexual lyrics when plenty of rock and blues bands had gone further before her. Mostly dressed in black, her hair scraped back severely, she seemed to eschew image, but then posed topless on the cover of NME. She insisted that there was no depth to the lyrics, and professed to being baffled by people’s attempts to interpret them, but her considered use of female archetypes to depict a woman’s fall and subsequent vengeance told a different story. All of these things were true at once, part of her distancing push-and-pull. As she told Spin in ’93, “The biggest protection you can have is if people think they’ve got you and they haven’t got you at all.” 
She pulls the same trick on Dry’s scumbag subject, going into the record's vengeful second half. She’s Delilah to his Samson on “Hair,” flattering him into submission and cutting off his mane. “I’ll keep it safe,” she sings, sounding emboldened by power, before flipping on a knife edge, realizing: “You’re mine.” The bass zooms as if mapping the swift transfer of power; the rhythm section pounds like Samson’s impotent rage. “Joe” is the record’s most manic moment. There’s no quiet-loud shift, just pure piledriver dynamics as she spits nails at the treachery she’s experienced: “Always thought you’d come rushing in to clear the shit out of my eye/Joe, ain’t you my buddy, thee?” 
But rather than commit bloody murder as you might expect, she retreats on “Plants and Rags,” “[easing] myself into a body bag,” and finding solace at home: “Who thought they could take away that place?” she asks as the violin swirls to a deranged squall. Her love of Slint comes through on the menacing fretboard harmonics of “Fountain,” where she washes herself clean and a Jesus-like figure shrouds her modesty in leaves. On “Water,” her first utterance of the word sounds like she’s dying of thirst. By the chorus, when she’s walked into the sea, invoking Mary and Jesus again, she sounds as though the crashing waves are emanating from her own throat. 
Critics have theorized that she drowns herself at the end of the album, to rid the shame from her body. But it sounds more like a rebirth; the cure to her dryness, finding satisfaction on her own terms and eradicating the need she had looked to someone else to fill. Dry is an exciting, scary joyride through the dawning realization that learning to please yourself yields far greater pleasure than relying on others to do it for you: These gory myths are her lover’s discourse, an apocalypse—in the revelatory sense—that she would push even further on 1993’s Rid of Me (after her immediate fame resulted in a nervous breakdown). Following the NYC gloss of 2000’s Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea, she attempted to tap back into this sound on 2004’s Uh Huh Her, but the lack of her debut’s extreme urgency limited its success. On Dry, Harvey’s character may appear to subjugate her gratification, but it’s all there, bursting out in the zeal of her playing. 
“It’s the same kind of excitement, playing music, as in a sexual relationship, and the two go hand-in-hand,” she told a French TV show in ’93. “And I think I find music physically exciting as well—actually playing loud music and standing in front of a bass amplifier is quite a sexual experience, I think.” She tells a story about playing in Chicago, and how every time Steve Vaughan hit an A, she got vibrations right up to her middle. “Wonderful,” she muses. “We play a lot of songs in A as well, so it was a good night.” The French journalist gurgles like a stunned baby, unable to process this frank, feral waif who’s got it all figured out.
Laura Snapes / Pitchfork

De La Soul ‎– And The Anonymous Nobody (2016)

Genre: Hip Hop
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: AOI Records

Tracklist:
01.   Genesis
02.   Royalty Capes
03.   Pain
04.   Property of Spitkicker.com
05.   Memory of... (Us)
06.   CBGB's
07.   Lord Intended
08.   Snoopies
09.   Greyhounds
10.   Sexy Bitch
11.   Trainwreck
12.   Drawn
13.   Whoodeeni
14.   Nosed Up
15.   You Go Dave (A Goldblatt Presentation)
16.   Unfold
17.   Here In After
18.   Exodus

When D.A.I.S.Y. Age survivors De La Soul announced that they were returning to the studio after a decade’s hiatus — and that, instead of pushing the project through a traditional record label, they were looking to fund the album via Kickstarter — fans were understandably excited about the implications for one of hip-hop’s most famously creative acts. And true to form, the Long Island rap legends decided to forego heavy sampling and studio synth shortcuts on the resulting LP, and the Anonymous Nobody…, instead putting the money towards session musicians and orchestral production. As a result of that approach and the group’s singular vision, De La Soul have delivered one of their most ambitious and consistently rewarding albums.

And the Anonymous Nobody… isn’t just an album that proves hip-hop elders are still capable of great work; it’s an LP that reaffirms De La Soul as standard-bearers for Gen-X rap artistry. There’s a lot to say about hip-hop artists “aging well,” but compared to rock and R&B, there isn’t the major bias against decades-deep MCs that there used to be. Of the rap game’s first wave of legendary album-driven artists that emerged in the late-’80s (up to the late-’90s), quite a few have recorded strong records deep into the 2010s: Ghostface Killah, Big Boi, the Roots, and mainstays like Nas and Jay Z are all still viable album artists in a genre inarguably driven by rhymers a generation younger. These seasoned rappers may not be consistently making hits, but they are delivering well-received LPs as evidence of a still-burning creativity: The album has become the refuge of the veteran rap great. 
Which is great news for De La Soul — the trio has always been about making great albums, first and foremost. Over the 15 years between their 1989 debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, and 2004’s The Grind Date, Pos, Dave, and Maseo crafted long players that were intended for extended listening. Faux-conceptualism drove all of those albums to varying degrees, while immaculate and inventive production — dating back to Prince Paul’s standard-setting, outside-the-box sampling on 3 Feet High — has been a hallmark for every entry in the shape-shifting outfit’s discography.

On Nobody, De La prove that even after a 12-year layover between albums, their creativity has only sharpened. The optimistic resilience anthem “Pain” is giddily infectious, with a great hook, sly groove, and a winning guest spot from fellow rap pillar Snoop Dogg. The group beautifully balances the somber and the sentimental on the Pete Rock-produced, Estelle-assisted “In Memory Of…,” a bittersweet look at the rose-colored glasses through which we oftentimes view past relationships. 
The next troika of tracks dabble in a variety of rock styles: The garage-rock thump of “CBGBS” gives way to the “hardest rock s**t you gon’ hear” on “Lord Intended,” a hard-rock opus that features Justin Hawkins and begins as a riff-driven stomp à la Funkadelic, and suddenly morphs into an operatic guitar orgy worthy of Queen. David Byrne makes an appearance on the quirky and inspired “Snoopies,” dropping references to Pan-Am trips in ’76 and the long-lost sitcom Gimme A Break!, over ghostly production that seamlessly segues from Talking Heads to Soulquarians.

“Greyhounds” boasts another inspired guest spot in the form of Usher’s melancholy hook, as De La rhymes in a  “Plug Tunin’” style, but with abstract instrumentation giving way to sober reality — the group offering anecdotes about wide-eyed hopefuls coming to New York City on buses, not knowing how much the city can and will change who they are. It’s one of the album’s best tracks, but there’s an embarrassment of riches here: the finger-wagging of the laidback “Trainwreck” is another wholly infectious, classic De La moment that, along with the dreamy Damon Albarn collaboration “Here In After,” should whet fans’ appetite for the trio’s work on the next Gorillaz album. 
The album’s guest list is indeed a long one, with occasionally unnecessary plus-ones, and sometimes the group’s commitment to eclecticism — Little Dragon shows up on the stellar “Drawn,” and 2 Chainz guests on “Whoodeeni,” the very next track — feels a bit too calculated. But the results are never rote: Every note of Nobody feels driven by the ingenuity of three artists for whom creative spirit is the highest currency.  Even with all of the highlights mentioned (many of which deserve all-time catalog consideration), the strength of and the Anonymous Nobody… remains how it holds together as a complete, cohesive listen. De La is still De La, only now they’re working more in the vein of a subtle and intricate ’70s ensemble film, and less like they’re anchoring a comfort-food ’80s sitcom.
Stereo Williams / Spin