PJ Harvey’s tenth studio album, I Inside The Old Year Dying, marks her first release in seven years, following the Grammy-nominated and UK No. 1 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project.
On I Inside The Old Year Dying, PJ Harvey builds a sonic universe somehow located in a space between life’s opposites, and between recent history and the ancient past. Scattered with biblical imagery and references to Shakespeare, all these distinctions ultimately dissolve into something profoundly uplifting and redemptive. Throughout her career, Harvey has always ensured that each phase of her progress has taken her somewhere new, but her latest music is audacious and original even by her own standards. Full of a sense of a cyclical return to new beginnings, it combines its creative daring with a sense of being open and inviting, in the most fascinating way. The new songs, Harvey says, offer “a resting space, a solace, a comfort, a balm - which feels timely for the times we’re in.”
The album’s story goes back six years, to the end of touring around her last album in 2017 and how Harvey felt immediately afterwards. What she keenly felt was that somewhere in the endless cycle of albums and tours, she had lost her connection with music itself, a realization that was troubling beyond words. The new songs, Harvey says, “all came out of me in about three weeks.” But that was only the beginning. The key to what would happen next, at Battery Studios in North West London, lay in a three-way creative bond that now goes back nearly thirty years, between Harvey, her enduring collaborator and creative partner John Parish, and the producer Flood, though that word does not really do him justice. “The studio was set up for live play, and that’s all we did,” Harvey explains. The importance of this is hard to overstate. If I Inside The Old Year Dying is a very tactile, human record, that is partly because just about everything on it is rooted in improvisation: spontaneous performances and ideas, recorded at the moment of their creation.
PJ Harvey has commanded attention since the start of her career and is the only musician to have been awarded the UK’s Mercury Music Prize more than once, winning first in 2001 for Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and again a decade later for Let England Shake. Since the release of The Hope Six Demolition Project, which went to #1 album in her native UK, she has contributed compositions for stage and screen, most recently for Sharon Horgan’s acclaimed Bad Sisters mini-series. An accomplished poet and visual artist, as well as a musician and songwriter, her work is striking in its originality. It’s vivid, absorbing, and distinct.