Functional Strength/Core

Get this:  I’m up early.  Yup.  Well, earlier than usual anyway (6:00am).  I accomplished this 2300m swim and afterwards, this 30 minute functional strength/core session with this ‘White Chalk‘  album by P.J. Harvey.

wc_cover

The quiet ones are always the scariest. Polly Jean Harvey’s appearance on the cover of ‘White Chalk‘ – all wild black hair and ghostly white dress – could replace the dictionary definition of eerie, and the album itself plays like a good ghost story.  It’s haunted by British folk, steeped in Gothic romance and horror, and almost impossible to get out of your head, despite (but really because of) how unsettling it becomes.

White Chalk‘ is Harvey’s darkest album yet – which, considering that she’s sung about dismembering a lover and drowning her daughter, is saying something. It’s also one of her most beautiful albums, inspired by the fragility and timelessness of chalk lines and her relative newness to the piano, which dominates ‘White Chalk‘; it gives ‘Before Departure‘  funereal heft and ‘Grow Grow Grow’  a witchy sparkle befitting its incantations. Most striking of all, however, is Harvey’s voice: she sings most of this album in a high, keening voice somewhere between a whisper and a whimper. She sounds like a wraith or a lost child, terrifyingly so on ‘The Mountain‘, where she breaks the tension with a spine-tingling shriek just before the album ends. This frail persona is almost unrecognizable as the woman who snarled about being a 50-foot queenie – yet few artists challenge themselves to change their sound as much as she does, so paradoxically, it’s a quintessentially PJ Harvey move. The album does indeed sound timeless, or at least, not modern.

This 2007 album  took five months to record with Harvey’s longtime collaborators Flood, John Parish, and Eric Drew Feldman, but these somber, cloistered songs sound like they could be performed in a parlor, or channeled via Ouija board. There is hardly any guitar (and certainly nothing as newfangled as electric guitar) besides the acoustic strumming on the beautifully chilly title track, which could pass for an especially gloomy traditional British folk song. Lyrics like ‘The Devil’‘s “Come here at once! All my being is now in pining” could be written by one of the Brontë sisters.

On a deeper level, ‘White Chalk‘  feels like a freshly unearthed relic because it runs so deep and dark. Harvey doesn’t just capture isolation and anguish; she makes fear, regret, and loneliness into entities. In these beautiful and almost unbearably intimate songs, darkness is a friend, silence is an enemy, and a piano is a skeleton with broken teeth and twitching red tongues. ‘When Under Ether‘ offers a hallucinatory escape from some horrible reality – quite possibly abortion, since unwanted children are some of the many broken family ties that haunt the album – and this is this album’s single. What makes the album even more intriguing is that it doesn’t really have much in common with the work of Harvey’s contemporaries or even her own catalog.

When she’s at the peak of her powers, as she is on this frightening yet fearless album, the world she creates is impossible to forget, or shake off easily. ‘White Chalk‘ can make you shiver on a sunny day which, fortunately, it isn’t today making it the perfect October near-Halloween(ish) listen this morning.

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About crazytigerrabbitman

I am a fat guy and always will be in the same way they say that “once an alcoholic; always an alcoholic”. Eventually I got upset about my poor health and ballooning body frame so I decided to change things for the better. Some people sign up for Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, or whatever fad diet program it is that happens to be occupying the majority of air time on the boob tube. Other people prefer to run out and purchase the latest, fold away, piece of shit being hawked by some celebrity has-been. Me? I decided to take up triathlon. I had abused my body over the years with bacon cheeseburgers, pints of beer and double-dipped donuts, and the time had now come to abuse my body with physical exertion, perseverance and hard work instead; penitence in it's purest form. The time had come to kick my ass. I am Terry Nash and I am the “fat and the furious”.
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