Song of the Day: PJ Harvey - The Wheel

Song of the Day
03/23/2016
Jacob Webb
photo by Maria Mochnacz

Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part of our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJ’s think you should hear. Today’s song, featured on the Afternoon Show with Kevin Cole, is “The Wheel” by PJ Harvey from her forthcoming album, The Hope Six Demolition Project, due April 15 on Vagrant Records.

PJ Harvey - The Wheel (MP3)

Polly Jean Harvey is, without question, one of the most inimitable and acclaimed musicians of her generation, an artist whose ability to deftly and repeatedly slip into an increasingly wide variety of musical personas remains the only constant thread in her body of work. The Dorset, England-born musician began her career as a member of Automatic Diamini in the late 1980s, but it was her first two solo albums, 1991's Dry and 1993's Rid of Me, that transformed her into a critical phenom, a stature that only increased with the release of her 1995 opus To Bring You My Love. The 2000s saw Harvey gradually move away from her then-trademark distorted guitars into a more melodic, sometimes mellow framework, most notably with the Mercury Prize-winning 2000's Stories From the City, Stories from the Sea and 2007's White Chalk, an autoharp-driven album that would lay the groundwork for 2011's Let England Shake, Harvey's most political album to that point and her second Mercury Prize winner. After a long silence, Harvey announced the early 2015 recording of her ninth studio album as part of a public viewing installation, which manifested itself in this year's The Hope Six Demolition Project.

Harvey's voice on "The Wheel" isn't far removed from the one she used on Let England Shake, but where the songs on that record relied on a discomforting inversion of melody and wiry arrangements to lay out its scathing indictment of war, "The Wheel" draws strength on point-blank fire from Harvey and her bandmates, conjuring a direct ferocity that Harvey hasn't utilized in years. Harvey never unleashes her primitive bluesy howl or stacks guitars on top of each other until they bleed on top of each other, but by orchestrating a full-on tidal wave of instruments with her blistering condemnations ("Now you see them, now you don’t/Children vanish ‘hind vehicle/Now you see them, now you don’t/Faces, limbs, a bouncing skull"), Harvey proves that although she's no longer the manic, Satan-baiting river siren character she used to play, her edge, now cool-eyed and vindictively calm, is still completely intact.

Embarking on tour for the first time in over four years, PJ Harvey will support The Hope Six Demolition Project starting in Europe this summer; North American dates have not yet been announced. Hopefully, you'll hear about them soon if you keep up on her website and Facebook. For now, watch the video for "The Wheel" below.

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