pj harvey white chalkI told myself that I wasn’t going to review many albums on my blog since there are many, many people out there who could do a better job of it. But, every once and a while, a Pitchfork Media review will get me upset enough that I have to respond. I mean, yes, Pitchfork is a good outlet for indie music news – but I cannot freaking stand a few of their snobbier reviewers who find every way to 1) have a shockingly differeing opinion just to be shocking and different 2) misuse wonderful words and 3) make up silly words when you could use real, actual words instead.

No, Pitchfork reviewer Joshua Klein, I will not accept that PJ Harvey’s new album is a 6.8 (or D+), just as I will not accept that “miserablism” is a good made-up word. I know from reading your other reviews that you have trouble rating anything “especially good” or “especially bad” – probably due to a lack of balls – just as I have a feeling that outside of your Pitchfork byline only your mother calls you Joshua. But this last review made me wonder which of your influential friends or relatives landed you the job you have now.

Moving on from Joshua’s balls, though, the review barely talks about the new album and mostly focuses on PJ Harvey history, factoids and rumors.  When it does get around to the music, he concludes that because an album is “bleak” and not “fun” that it is bad. That because her piano work is very simple that it is therefore not creative or interesting.

White Chalk’s success lies in it’s ability to create an atmosphere — a ghostly mood you can’t shake for hours after it’s over. Utterly stripped down, quiet, and simple, each song features a softer, eerier Harvey who sings in a higher than usual register and plays basic, halting chords on her piano and guitar. During the opening verse of “Broken Harp” she sings, “Please don’t reproach me for how empty my life has become,” and this seems to serve as a major theme in the album – these are the songs of someone cloistered, monkish, and meditative (yes, these are simple words, but they’re all accurate and real ones).

Harvey creates a backdrop of the gothic windswept English landscape – think Wuthering Heights – as the isolating force and central image on this album. And while many call this almost haunting effort a departure from her louder, higher-energy albums, it seems to be more of a reduction of her previous music to the most vital parts – the songs have a folky, fairytale, four-track sparseness to them. In fact, this “departure” might just be a disguise for Harvey’s most personal piece of work to date in that it captures Harvey’s slightly misanthropic and quiet life in rural England. Yes, her electric guitar has been set aside and she doesn’t do much of her patent shouting (which I find equally satisfying), but this certainly has the soul of a PJ Harvey album.

Bleak is a word that Klein uses negatively in his review. And it might be the central word that I would use to describe the 11-tracks – but I find it to be bleak in the most lovely way.  And while Klein claims that the CD’s unforgivable flaw is that there is no catharsis, well, I’d have to say he might have been looking too close to see the big picture. The catharsis is the physical performance of the songs.

If you don’t believe me, if you think that maybe I’m just a rabid fan of PJ Harvey who would give a positive review to anything with her name on it, I’ve linked to a video of her performing her new album’s title track. Judge for yourself.

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