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PJ Harvey in Breath-taking Form at Manchester Albert Hall [Show Review]

With her new album playing on loop in his head, Del Pike witnesses the whole epic album in breath-taking glory on a rainy Manchester night.

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PJ Harvey

Clocking in at just over 30 years in the business, and exploring a vast array of genres along the way, it feels like PJ Harvey has come of age (again) with her latest offering, I Inside The Old Year Dying.

The album, very much a concept album, deals with themes of the life-cycle from birth to death, and embraces British folk, even veering towards folk horror in its darker moments. The lyrics are culled from her 2022 Epic poem, “Orlam”, from which the deep usage of Dorset dialogue lends itself even further into the realms of cinematic imagery, recalling the feel of the Cornish films of Mark Jenkin (Bait, Enys Men).

Her current tour is a game of two halves, delivering the album in its entirety before embarking on a finely curated skim through highlights of her lengthy back-catalogue. In some respects, it must be this way. The album certainly works so much better as a whole body of work and mixing selected tracks with old favourites would not do justice to the epic nature of the piece.

Manchester’s Albert Hall, on this her second show of a two-night residency, provides a perfect backdrop for the theatre that unfolds. An ambient hum has been slowly building for some time now, resonating in the columns and stained-glass windows of the cavernous former Methodist Hall. The lights dim and the atmosphere builds. The four-piece band take their places amongst strategically placed church furniture and finally Harvey finds a central spot, bathed in a golden spotlight that seems to reach forever from the dizzyingly high ceiling. High drama indeed.

Album opener “Prayer at the Gate” is performed with a level of intimacy that feels impossible in such lofty surroundings. Carefully choreographed, Harvey plays the character from ‘Orlam’ in many stages and strikes a whole spectrum of poses and stances. Seemingly guarding her eyes from the bright spotlight, which illuminates her off-white dress, there are times when it could almost be Kate Bush before us. Vocally she is also on a par with Bush and the album, on more than a few occasions shares echoes of “The Dreaming” and the equally epic “Ninth Wave Suite” from the Hounds of Love album.

The album continues to play out, the songs in order so as not to distract from the narrative. The subtle sound effects from the record are given more prominence here and the air is filled between songs with children playing and birds singing. The atmosphere this creates is beautiful and a million miles from the angsty rock shows that kick started her career.

Harvey looks incredible, her face never once veers from the powerful character of the nine-year-old Ira Abel that she is portraying. Middle age has softened her face and the childlike manner comes across naturally, full of awe and wonder.

The songs are delivered with precision, reflecting the excellent production values of the album and her band, including long time collaborator, John Parish are fantastic. Holding onto a tight rustic rhythm that never lets slip, this all adds to the folk narrative of the set. The drumming of Jean-Marc Butty in particular, drifts in and out spectrally, creating a lost in the woods feel that remains suitably mysterious throughout.

Excursions take place, particularly in songs like “Lwonesome Tonight”, where Harvey’s vocals sound uncannily like Beth Gibbons and the guitar patterns come straight from a Mississippi Bayou. The title track could easily be a lost Radiohead cut and “A Child’s Question – July” (guest vocals by Ben Wishaw on the album) is pure Wicker Man. For a piece with such sharp focus, there are many avenues and streams that the music follows, this is no one trick pony.

“Harvey looks incredible, her face never once veers from the powerful character of the nine-year-old Ira Abel that she is portraying.”

The first half is possibly one of the most perfect song cycles I have seen performed live. The audience completely under Harvey’s spell and hanging onto every word, note and action.

A break takes the form of the band members (Sans Harvey) taking front stage to perform a standing version of “The Colour of The Earth” from 2011’s Let England Shake album. It’s a rattling, rumbling version, full of ancient blood, lacking the softer melodies of the album version and foretelling the nature of what is to come in the second half.

Harvey returns and launches into “The Glorious Land” and “The Words that Maketh Murder”, both also from Let England Shake, and the folk themes of the first act remain. At moments the set becomes darker and there are also glimmers of hope, much like the gigs of her great collaborator Nick Cave, and this is no less dramatic.

1998’s Is This Desire? album is represented with spellbinding, era-defining renditions of “Angeline” and “The Garden”. The latter is followed by the welcome surprise of a very special guest tonight, local boy done good, Johnny Marr. Providing shimmering guitars for 2004’s “The Desperate Kingdom of Love”, Marr is always a welcome presence, and his style fits the song perfectly.

As the set draws to a close, the mood becomes heavier and songs are drawn from her much celebrated earlier albums, Dry (“Dress”), Rid of Me (“Mansize”) and the Southern gothic masterpiece, To Bring You my Love (“Send His Love To Me”, “Down By The Water” and “To Bring You My Love”), all of which are delivered with powerhouse force while still retaining the folksiness of the night. “Down By The Water”, with its “Big Fish, Little Fish” taunt is possibly the highlight of the second half, bathed in blue light with deafening clacks of the PJ’s wooden blocks, this is mystical and beautiful.

Johnny Marr returns for a majestic encore of the absolute rocking “C’mon Billy”. You can truly hear phrases from his Smiths work in this and the closer “White Chalk” from 2007 brings the tone full circle with its mesmeric folky swirls.

An excellent show that has urged me to dig deep into PJ Harvey’s archive to discover the bits that I have missed over the years and to repeatedly play the hypnotic new album which somehow manages to not just create ear-worms but nestle tightly under the skin.

There is torrential rain, drenching the bootleg T Shirts on the pavement outside, but the effect of the incredible gig we have just witnessed acts as a virtual umbrella, everyone is soaking, but nobody seems to care.

PJ Harvey’s tenth album, I Inside The Old Year Dying, is available now from her Official Website.

Del Pike is a University lecturer in Film and Media in Liverpool (UK). He writes film, music, art, literature and culture articles and reviews for a number of websites. Del loves nothing more than snuggling down in a dark cinema, getting sweaty at  a live gig or drifting off late at night to a good book. He loves cats. He enjoys promoting new talent online so please say hi if you have something to show.

Indie

Dawson Fuss Premieres His Children’s Book-Inspired EP ‘Maybe’

Dawson Fuss’ amalgam of pop and alt-rock surfaces sounds like it’s made of authentic emotions and polished with vulnerability.

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Dawson Fuss, photo by Serena Chen
Dawson Fuss, photo by Serena Chen

Two years in the making, indie-pop/alternative artist Dawson Fuss introduces his new EP, Maybe, whose title track was produced by multi-platinum producer Teal Douville. Maybe was inspired by a story from a children’s book that Fuss’ father read to him – Zen Shorts by Jon J. Muth.

Fuss explains:

“It was one of my dad’s favorite stories to read to me because he always wanted me to make the most of every situation, good or bad, and that’s what the song is about. It’s a Chinese farmer fable where all these things happen that may be good or bad luck, depending on one’s perspective. Every situation we face can be seen as good or bad, depending on how we respond to it. It’s the ultimate expression of the glass half full, glass half empty idea.”

A sophomore in the Modern Artist Development and Entrepreneurship (MADE) program at the prestigious Frost School of Music at the University of Miami, Fuss will release an emotionally charged, autobiographical 9-minute short film he co-directed on March 1. The film chronicles his growing up in Santa Barbara and his relationship with his father, as well as his getting a tattoo of ‘Maybe’ on his shoulder while explaining the philosophical implications of the word.

The title track opens on light, wavering tones, followed by Fuss’ pensive, evocative voice, imbuing the lyrics with feelings lying somewhere between wishful and apprehensive. The bridge elevates the song to the contagious chorus, where Fuss conveys his bemused response to the mysterious ambiguity of life.

“Maybe it’s just part of life / And maybe that makes it okay / Maybe they call it goodbye / Cuz maybe it’s harder to stay / Maybe, maybe.”

Of the other four tracks on the EP, produced by Jaron Crespi and James October, high points include “Growing Pains,” with its gentle, poignant intro that mousses up to heavy layers of rock dynamics. The ebb and rise of the tune and Fuss’ expressive vocals shape an enticing appeal that is hard to resist.

Drenched in darker hues of anguish, revealing the ache of a broken heart, “Oblivious” burns with seething emotions. Weighty vocal harmonies emphasize the profound depth of love’s capacity to wound.

“You give me all your attention / Act like it’s only a friendship / Why would you torture me like this / Are you really that oblivious?”

Dawson Fuss’ amalgam of pop and alt-rock surfaces sounds like it’s made of authentic emotions and polished with vulnerability.

Maybe Track Listing:

1. Life Sucks
2. Say The Words
3. Growing Pains
4. Oblivious
5. Maybe

Dawson Fuss ‘Maybe’ [EP] album artwork

Dawson Fuss ‘Maybe’ [EP] album artwork

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Indie

Chorus of Courage Project Shares “Sweet Little Hummingbird” Single

Chorus of Courage share first song, “Sweet Little Hummingbird,” from collective project that aims to give a voice to survivors of violence.

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Julian Taylor

Chorus of Courage shares the first song, “Sweet Little Hummingbird,” from the collective project’s upcoming recording, which aims to give a voice to survivors of violence. The Single reflects the lived experience of storyteller Denyse, as interpreted by Toronto folk singer-songwriter Julian Taylor.

The song will be featured on the collaborative album Always By Your Side, due out on March 22nd (via Dare to Defy Records). It is a moving record that stands as a testament to the indomitable spirit of all voices and advocates for a world where voices are heard, honoured, and empowered.

Chorus of Courage is a space created to hold and honour the voices and stories of survivors of violence. They came together and became friends and allies – a supportive family. They created a home to explore some of the most difficult experiences one can imagine – a retreat – and did it with love, music, silence, acceptance, guidance, connection, and movement, hand in hand. This project explores the entire spectrum of emotions that are felt through the unique experiences of the ones to honour – the storytellers.

The essence of the project lay in creating a dynamic conversation through music. Initially, the five songwriters collaborated closely with the storytellers to translate their experiences into songs. These songs, along with letters from the storytellers, were then shared with the allies. In response, allies contributed their songs, fostering a unique call-and-response exchange of emotion and empathy. Through this musical dialogue, the project aims to inspire, amplify voices, and catalyze positive change, uniting participants in a shared journey of resilience and hope.

Chorus of Courage “Sweet Little Hummingbird” single artwork

Chorus of Courage “Sweet Little Hummingbird” single artwork

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Alternative/Rock

Levitate Music & Arts Festival Returns for its 11th Year!

Levitate Music & Arts Festival has announced it will be returning for its 11th year this Fourth of July weekend in Marshfield, MA.

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Levitate Music & Arts Festival 2024
Levitate Music & Arts Festival 2024

Levitate Music & Arts Festival has announced it will be returning for its 11th year this Fourth of July weekend in Marshfield, MA. The Marshfield Fairgrounds will host the likes of Sublime with original members Bud Gaugh and Eric Wilson, Lake Street Dive, Tash Sultana, Mt. Joy, the Dirty Heads, and many more.

The music festival originally started as a surf shop’s 10-year anniversary party and is now the premier boutique music and arts festival for the region. The festival features national and local acts while including the arts with vendors and installations throughout the grounds. The festival is a family-friendly event, including a kids zone with interactive activities.

On top of bringing together the East Coast community, one percent of each ticket sold will go to the Levitate Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to cultivate vibrant communities by creating and conserving access to music, art and the outdoors.

With the reunion of Sublime and several powerhouse appearances, this year’s Levitate is sure to be a must-attend event. The festival runs from July 5th through the 7th, 2024. Tickets are on sale now here. See you there!

Levitate Music & Arts Festival 2024 admat

Levitate Music & Arts Festival 2024 admat

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