A tableaux of refugee camps, warzones and dereliction

PJ Harvey The Hope Six Demolition Project

Andy Gill
Wednesday 13 April 2016 13:04
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​The Hope Six Demolition Project is PJ Harvey's ninth studio album
​The Hope Six Demolition Project is PJ Harvey's ninth studio album

With The Hope Six Demolition Project, PJ Harvey continues the fascination with conflict that drove 2011’s Let England Shake; but where that album derived largely from the art and reportage of the First World War, this time she’s immersed herself personally in the after-effects of war, visiting places in Kosovo, Afghanistan, and the Anacostia neighbourhood of Washington, a poverty-stricken district across the river from America’s governing elite. “gathering information from secondary sources felt too far removed for what I was trying to write about,” she explains. “I wanted to smell the air, feel the soil and meet the people of the countries I was fascinated with.”

Following several years’ intermittent visits for research, the album was recorded partly in public last year during her “Recording in Progress” residency at Somerset House, with a band that included long-time accomplices such as Mick Harvey and co-producers John Parish and Flood. As befits the sometimes grisly subject matter, the songs are set to brutal, declamatory riffs and lumpy grooves stippled with prickly guitars and burring saxes, most effectively on “Chain Of Keys”, a slow processional march to which the paired baritone saxes lend a dark, brooding power. That song, prompted by meeting an old woman, the last occupant of her village, carrying the keys to the departed families’ homes, is the most powerful piece here, closely followed by the loose, rangey rolling groove of “The Wheel”, a reflection on missing children.

Elsewhere, the tableaux of refugee camps, warzones and dereliction - an abandoned building littered with syringes and shit, a drug-riddled neighbourhood, a polluted river, “a displaced family eating a cold horse’s hoof” - builds grimly throughout, albeit to uncertain ends. There’s certainly a glibness about the contrast, in “Medicinals”, between native herbal remedies and paper-bagged booze, the “new painkiller for the native people”; and is Harvey’s guilt at the beggar-boy’s pleading for “Dollar, Dollar” ultimately more significant or insightful than any other tourist’s?

Download this: Chain Of Keys; The Wheel; A Line In The Sand

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