PJ HARVEY – LET ENGLAND SHAKE: DEMOS
THIS 2011 Mercury Music Prize winner is considered by many to be Polly Harvey’s best of her career, and the stripped down nature of these unreleased demos highlights the quality of her 12 songs.
The simplicity of the heartbreaking elegy of the First World War trenches Hanging In The Wire underscores its continuation of the folksong tradition. The Color Of The Earth also speaks of “the war to end all wars”, while The Glorious Land begins with a military-style trumpet salute and warns of children damaged by conflict.
Some of the ideas from those demos carried over to the album, such as the opening and title track’s use of a snippet of 1950s Istanbul by the Four Lads (Not Constantinople), as Harvey sings ” England’s dancing days is done”.
While these demos naturally lack the rich instrumental tapestry of the originals, the austere arrangements are even more powerful, with an eerie and terrible beauty.
EELS – EXTREME SORCERY
BACK with their fourteenth studio album, Eels (led by the ubiquitous Mark Oliver Everett aka E). Like fashion, the music seems to revolve around the alternative rock that was everywhere in the 90s. Not as grungy but just as dark if with a slight twist.
Extreme Witchcraft sees E co-produce with PJ Harvey and guitarist John Parish, and the sounds are richer than ever and reminiscent of the rockier sounds of the Soul Jacker era.
Standout tracks include What It Isn’t, Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve and The Magic.
The whole of Extreme Witchcraft sways with delicate hopeful trills, heavy percussion, upbeat melodies, mixed with dirty, dark distortions and melancholic suppositions.
No one is beautifully dark yet horribly hopeful like eels.
THE SHERLOCKS – THE WORLD I UNDERSTAND
THREE albums in hand, The Sherlocks continue to carry the torch of the indie rock anthem. Few groups have remained as attached to sound as this quartet, which continues to dig a now well-worn furrow.
Frontman Kiaran Crook and his brother Brandon on drums recruited two new members to replace recently departed Josh and Andy Davidson, and the new line-up injected new energy into these songs.
What the Sherlocks lack in originality, they make up for in catchy choruses and enthusiasm. Tracks like Falling and City Lights will please fans with their squeaky guitars and punchy beats.
But the album suffers from a lack of innovative spirit. There is little evidence that the band’s songwriting has evolved since their last release, Under Your Sky in 2019.
Still, the Sherlocks’ newfound energy and their leader’s passionate voice make for an enjoyable listen.
EARL SWEATSHIRT – SICK!
EARL Sweatshirt first rose to prominence as a member of Odd Future, the provocative rap collective led by creator Tyler. Since then, the California-raised rapper has gone his own way, focusing on murky lo-fi beats and inward-looking lyrics rather than brash experimentalism.
This set him apart from his contemporaries, but also made his full-length versions inscrutable to some. 2018’s Some Rap Songs and 2019’s Feet Of Clay saw him develop his laid-back delivery, but buried his lyricism under thick layers of instrumental sound.
Sick! has more clarity.
Vision’s moody, cinematic trap beats with Zelooperz and album opener Old Friend point to a larger vision, while tracks such as Lye hone its loose, jazzy vibe.
Despite the brevity of these tracks (the album is only 24 minutes long), listening to them feels like coming to the surface after a deep dive into the depths of the ocean.
Sick! is an exciting nod to where Earl Sweatshirt might go next.