PJ Harvey – I Inside The Old Year Dying

When an artist has been creating music for a good portion of their life, to the point of being on their 10th studio album, it is only natural that they begin to explore their sound and style of music, which is exactly what PJ Harvey has done with her latest studio album ‘I Inside The Old Year Dying’. This album is a fantastic example of an artist creating a completely original and unique sound even compared to their other music.

The album starts out with the song ‘Prayer At The Gate’, which is a wonderful invitation to divulge yourself in the dreamy and atmospheric world that this record creates. This song starts out with an instrument that is reminiscent of an alarm sound with relaxed drums playing behind it, it immediately shows you that this album will be fairly experimental with its instrumentation, as well as its melody as when the vocals come in they mainly consist of a “dododo do do” sound or long, sustained notes over the instrumental. When discussing the vocals Harvey said “I remember with ‘Prayer at the Gate’, Flood was encouraging me to sing like I was much older than I am, and to have something desperate in my voice. I don’t even recognise myself”. I think this is very prevalent, there is this slight tone of voice that is different to the rest of the album that does add an extra hint of desperation and emotion to the song.

The record continues on with the mix of electronic instruments and drums, guitars and pianos, weaving them together beautifully throughout the production. My favourite example of the mix of instrumentation is the title track that starts off with a punching guitar that remains prevalent throughout every verse and then proceeds to build up throughout the song creating an ethereal soundscape made of mainly physical instrumentation with some synths added to give it an atmospheric feel.

This is then wonderfully contrasted with the next song ‘All Souls’, which features almost entirely synths, keyboards and pads, mixed with the raspy vocals and then moments with piano that give the sound a slightly heightened and classical feel. The song ‘All Souls’ is one of the standouts on the album for me, it has a much darker feeling to it, most likely through the instrumentation as well as Harvey’s vocal which she has said “I don’t think I’ve ever sung in such a low and restrained way.”

Throughout the whole album there is a feeling that a story is being told and with the atmosphere created by the final track ‘A Noiseless Noise’, it all feels as though it comes to a conclusion, ending in Harvey letting out her emotions as the album reaches its climactic point near the start of the song only for it to quieten down and reach a stilled conclusion.

Every song on this album has a wonderful ability to play with your emotions whether it is the soft duet of ‘Autumn Term’ or the fast paced yet sombre ‘I Inside The Old Year Dying’. It can build you up and knock you down or make you feel lost or found. PJ Harvey has said that at its core “The album is about searching, looking-the intensity of first love, and seeking meaning. Not that there has to be a message, but the feeling I get from the record is one of love–it’s tinged with sadness and loss, but it’s loving”, which completely comes through. Listening to this album feels like being held by an old friend or a partner and you can hear that at the records very heart is love and care. I can only hope whatever PJ Harvey moves onto next she is able to put the same amount of love into it if that brings out results like these.

Isabelle Evans