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A rough guess and anecdotal evidence suggests that A Woman A Man Walked By is in the bottom tier of most people's personal PJ Harvey album rankings. It is a weird one. John Parish wrote the music and sent it to Harvey in a couple of batches. She then either wrote lyrics or matched already written lyrics to the music, figured out how to sing them, and sent them back for approval. He approved just about all of it and they put the album together.

As a result it is very much an album of individual songs -- "individual worlds," Harvey calls them, each demanding a different approach. The range is shocking on first and subsequent listens. Black Hearted Love is a pure perfect rock song and her voice is powerful, melancholy and sexy. Pig Will Not is snarling rage. Cracks in the Canvas is spoken word. The Soldiers presages the eerie delicate falsetto she experiments with in White Chalk.

Each piece of music demanded of her that she seek out a new way to use her voice, to turn it into the right instrument for each song. She would try different voices, create different characters, working at different ways of singing. In the end, each song, between music, lyric and voice, finds the way it "has to be." For her, co-writing this album was a matter of working at it until she reached the limits of what she was able to do with her voice sylistically, emotionally, and, fascinatingly, physically.

April is a standout track. Imagine first listening to that quiet moan of organ and drums and thinking, what I need to do now is sing ugly. A squeaky, croaky tilting warble like I have no technique at all. She has no vanity.

Aside from the brainworks, if you have vocal chords, a pair of lungs, and a mouth you can sing. In the clip below of her (and Parish & Co) performing April live I am amazed by two things:

1. That croak in her voice during the bulk of the song is vocal fry. What you are hearing is the physical fact of her vocal folds vibrating and allowing air to pass through irregularly. Vocal fry is a pretty common sylistic tool in singing - the most famous example is Britney's characteristic "oh baby baby." It's easiest to hit on low notes (metal vocalists use it a lot too) and can lend a sexy feel to vocals when used judiciously. What you never hear is someone using it for a whole song and to pitch it up in the clouds. Not only is it super weird and unsexy it is DIFFICULT and requires a ton of technique and control. Try and sing "oh baby baby" over and over again a couple of octaves up and see how hard it is.

2. She spends most of the song tense, repressed, and internally focussed. When the music rises and she belts out the climax her shoulders drop and her mouth opens wide and her tongue flattens and bends to make those vowels as strong as possible. You can see it changing shape in the middle of words, reaching up to tap the back of her teeth to make a t. Pure phonetics, stretched to extremes in service of emotion and character.

To be clear this is not just how "how PJ Harvey sings." In that same session for the elaborate hide-and-seek song Sixteen, Fifteen, Fourteen she waves her arms, laughs, yips, ducks out of view, tosses her head about as characters call from different sides of the garden.

It is not enough to sing the right words at the right pitch in the right order. Your voice comes from your body; she creates the emotion in her posture, her throat, the physical facts of her body. A song like April is ONLY successful if she can deliver it right, which would be, for most people, an impossibility. She is a genius.
arf_she_said: (the situation being fluid and all.....)
So Brotherhood (Brodeskab) you guys, I don't even know where to start with this movie.

I could start with the heartwarming scene where the two attractive white guys bond over the creation of awful, just simply vile racist Neo-Nazi propaganda and proceed to distribute it with the sweet, guitar-accompanied abandon that sees young lovers in other movies frolicking in autumnal drifts.

I could start by comparing it to Brokeback Mountain and Einaym Pkuhot, two other recent, stunningly acted movies about the intense homoeroticism of a repressive, masculinist culture.

Or I could start with David Dencik.

Let me start with David Dencik. )

Man, I am so glad to purge my thoughts on this, I haven't been able to think about anything else for a whole day now.


has been on hiatus and is still under construction, so thanks for your patience! Email Arf She Said.


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