PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

PJ Harvey
Let England Shake
Vagrant Records

Right off the bat, song three, “The Glorious Land”, Ms. Harvey, just because you learned about horns does not mean you should just errantly drop a horn riff all willy nilly in the middle of a song. It’s totally distracting and takes a listener right out of the song. The nice, subtle hits you use on “The Words That Maketh Murder” are pretty awesome, they work well, propel the song forward and give it a nice bit of depth. But that all-to-familiar-but-still-can’t-put-my-finger-on-it horn riff in “The Glorious Land” bothers me to no end. I am, in fact having a very hard time concentrating on writing this review because of it.

Secondly, yr caterwauling at the beginning of “England” needs to stop. Perfectly good, mild song, placed perfectly in the middle of this album, but that beginning just fucks up my brain. I don’t know what nationality of folk music you brought that from but that shit needs to stop. It’s as bad as that damn off tempo horn riff we already talked about.

Third, and this might be do to the fact that I have been playing bass in a band for the last six weeks or so, WHERE THE FUCK IS THE LOW END? Look, I checked the settings on my computer and in my car while listening to this album and there is no low-end. I am getting tired of these so-called musicians dismissing the bass. I curse thee with a lifetime of haunting by The Minutemen. Take note here you indie rockers, bass is an instrument and a pretty fucking crucial one in rock and roll music. Most guitarists aren’t talented enough to provide a full, rich sound. Further, no one is getting laid while listening to your album if there is no bass. That’s where the sex comes from. You can’t have Sexy without the sex. And while I find PJ Harvey’s music very sensual, though not so much here on Let England Shake, no bass = no booth.

What I am trying to say here is that Let England Shake, the twentymillonth PJ Harvey album she has put out post Rid Of Me is more, weird, experimentation on her part. Much like her fellow countrymen in Radiohead, PJ has utilized most of her career to abandon the parts of her music that made her awesome. Namely, her great, loud, ballsy as fuck guitar playing. In fact, two of my favorite guitarists, Diane Foglizzio of Trophy Wife and Aimee Argote of des_ark play guitar like you used to, with a ferocity most dudes take for granted. Coincidentally, both of these ladies don’t use bass in their music, because they are that good (though I still wish there was low-end, but that’s because I like bass). Even worse, the vocals, there not that good. There really weird, and not just PJ Harvey weird, just weird. I think this has a lot to do with her recent love for global folk music. But this just sounds like an imitation to me, instead of a natural presentation.

I get it, I’m being really harsh on the giants of Indie Rock this week. It’s not an easy task, the positions I am taking are not going to make me popular. Especially since I don’t use commas properly. But whatever, I guess I’m just really getting tired of all these once great performers making really mediocre music in the name of exploration and experimentation. I don’t want to sound like I am faulting anyone here for trying to reach out of the boundaries of their culture and personal history, but I guess the application of discovery is falling short on my ears. There are really interesting, unique moments on this new album here from PJ, but mostly it just lacks any type of dynamic or punch. If I have learned anything from my friends who make music, you can be subtle and crushing at the same time. You can have soft tones and take breaths away. You can kick out crazy vocal parts, with unique, non-traditional voices and totally fuck shit up. You can grow and expand your sound and reach beyond your own limitations and take from the air amazing music. But it has to work. Indie rock is just not working for me these days, mostly because it lacks the integral ingredient: ROCK.

If You Aren’t Writing About Your Friends Music On The Internet You’re Not Doing Your Job

In part it is because there is so much more to Mike Law and Katy Otto then the music they make, though it is a great part of who they are and the bridge between me and them. But around that bridge I have been blessed with friends that are incredibly curious about the world, fervent in their beleifs and unwavering in their convictions.

Trophy Wife
Patience Fury
307 Knox Records

I think the best thing that punk rock has done for the world is seperate the wall between artist and observer. Any casual reader of this blog or my zine (issue #4 currently available, email yr address to goodgovernor@yahoo.com for a copy) is by now, well aware of a long and wonderful friendship between yours truly and the amazing Katy Otto. I’ve been watching this lady play drums since I was a teenager and for close to 15 years now, she is one of my absolute favorite musicians on this planet. It’s because of the nature of punk rock that I have been lucky enough to be friends with this incredible and inspiring woman. And so it is with great pleasure to once again hear her behind the drum kit. And what a sonic pleasure it is.

Along with her co-conspirator Diane Foglizzo, Trophy Wife creates a stuning and sharp sonic explosion. Being introducted to the guitar playing of Folizzo has been quite an adventure and treat. Her stunning, crisp and cutting chords are augmented by the most jagged riffs and scales, that walk with a vicousness across the fretboard. They are dangerous tones and they challenge you.

I have commented before about a style I have noticed amongst women guitar players that I have never heard from men. I think this is important because it’s a very individual approach, but has stunningly linked results. “Five” has a guitar mastery that is remenicent of the great Aimee Argote when she lays down the law. The attack and bight pays compliment to a blanket of sounds rarely heard or explored. And for a little DC post punk reminder, check out “Whitesburg, KY” it’s Hoover/Regulator Watts openersounds right at home to these ears. Album closer “Repetition” is equal parts Unwound and Refused, Diane’s choppy chord hits supported by a classic marchers beat from Katy.

For her part of the equation, Ms. Otto has never sounded better. She has developed an crushing mastery that is raw and powerful while mainting her distinct drumers voice, playing the instrument not as a time keeper but as a musician. She compliments and co-mingles within the tight spaces made by the guitar work and hits harder and louder then she has in the past. I love the new sound of sticks clashing against the skins of those drums. All the while Katy maintains the artful rolls and fills I have come to love from her, placing beats, hits and fills where they are not expected.

I would be reporached if I didn’t mention the vocals in this gushing review. While largely allowing their instruments to make their arguments, Trophy Wife are not ones to shy away from making a fantastic vocal statement. So much loud and aggressive music lacks a good, learned vocal approach and this is where Trophy Wife really does seperate themselves. There are actual vocal parts in these songs, where both Otto and Foglizzo combine their voices and much like the instruments, play off each other. Credit must be extended to Engineer Devin Ocampo for his masterful work in turning these performances into such a solid presentation.

Music crticism is supposed to be objective and I have always found that practice trite and boring. Pop music isn’t the study of music theory, it is the creation of passion and persistance. My relationship to the people in Trophy Wife does not predispose me to my passionate feelings about my love for this band. In fact, it enhances my experiences. To suggest that one has to have that kind of a relationship to the music is a bit of an unfair expectation I realize, but in no way am I going to appologize for that. I became friends with Katy because we have a shared love of music and music making and grew up in a music scene that we both loved and respected.  Even if I could take that out of the equation, I wouldn’t. I recomend for you dear reader, you slap down the cash, put on some headphones and get your head exploded.

New Idea Society
Somehow Disapperaing
Shiny Shoes

My musical taste lineage by way of the people introduced to me by the afformentioned Ms. Otto extends to a soft spoken, mild mannered, insanely tallented and grossly overlooked gentleman (in the New England sense of the word, which is important because, despite being born out west I consider myself a Southern Gentleman) by the name of Mike Law.  I love Mike Law. Like the best and most cherished of my friends, Mike Law has a special place in my cold heart, in no small part because his being and therefor the knowledge of his continued existance warms that dirty, brown ice sludged organ that begrudgingly beats in my chest.

Mike Law has a direct cosmic string to my soul that he plucks so beautifuly. When New Idea Society’s last album The World Is Bright and Lonely came of age I was totally blown away by it. It was a constructed, dirty and raw pop masterpiece. Like I am now, then I gushed over the album and begged everyone I knew to check it out, because the record was on top of the world. Law displayed a penchant for and an homge towards the great pop rock song. So Somehow Disappearing comes not as a suprise, for it’s catchy as hell, but it’s pop music in a totally reimagined and challenging way.

A full realized, full band effort, New Idea Society greatly benefited from this approach. Built not around Law’s Guthrie/McCartney/Robert Smith guitar songs, Somehow Disappearing instead puts Mike’s vocals at the forefront and is backed by glorious piano work, dark and rich bass and a drum sound that sets such a great and subtle foundation. All of this is done that lets Law’s voice be playful and dangerous, while keeping it the most consciece performances he has made to date.

And the music is so dark and dense, it’s hard to truly absorb it at the same time as Law’s sweet vocals soar with it. But the deep emotions in the lyrics, the grand delivery of the voice and the tremendous space afforded to the musicians playing comes together so spectacularly that the music is emotionally consuming. It’s hard to be aware of the world outside of this resonant territory. It’s a sad fucking record. Mike’s always had a flavor for the melancholy, and he’s always done it with such beauty and grace, but even his previous efforts had moments of  carefree jubilation and joy. The only reprieve we get here is with “Summer Lion” which is such a playful song, it’s already become one of my favorites.

Writing about the music of my friends is important to me. In part  it is because there is so much more to Mike Law and Katy Otto then the music they make, though it is a great part of who they are and the bridge between me and them. But around that bridge I have been blessed with friends that are incredibly curious about the world, fervent in their beleifs and unwavering in their convictions. Yes, it is the music that drew me to these people, but it is the people themselves that I love. I want the larger world to hear Trophy Wife and New Idea Society. They make music unlike anybody else I have heard, drawing on a large pallet of influences, but like any great artists, shaping in their own vision. I am, unabashedly, a champion and cheerleader for the music made by the people I love. Objectivity can jump out of the window for all I care. This is beautiful, emotional, evocative music. If they were as estranged to me as my rock star crushes, I wouldn’t care. I would crush just as hard and badger you all with my inane ramblings. I’m just really lucky that some of my favorite rock stars are my friends.