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"A voice comes to one in the dark.

Samuel Beckett (Company 1980).

....and here we have the voice of Polly Harvey. Stripped Bare.

Like the old woman in the rocking chair in Beckett's 'Rockaby';
alone listening to the cracked sound of her own voice.
Memory. Longing. Loss. Hope. Futility.

This is indeed a dark place but a place without artifice. The intimacy
at times almost unbearable.

These 11 songs are an extraordinary addition to Ms Harvey's canon.
Compressed, fleeting evocations; almost suffocating at times in their intensity.

The mood of the album is sustained throughout without respite.

Simple piano/guitar accompaniment, supported by uncluttered additional
instrumentation and vocals. The production unintrusive.

'Dear Darkness', 'When Under the Ether', 'Silence', 'The Piano',
and the superlative 'The Mountain' just some of the highpoints
in a work of claustrophobic genius.

A highpoint in the career of this hugely talented woman.

A small masterpiece indeed.

"And how better in the end labour lost and silence.
And you as you always were.


Samuel Beckett (Company 1980).
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VINE VOICEon 25 September 2007
Finally, four albums later, I'm enthralled by the wonderous P.J. Harvey once more.
I thought her special brand of genius had been dulled but White Chalk is a return to total form and an utter joy.
Dry, Rid Of Me and Four-Track demos were three of my all time favourites but I haven't truly connected with anything of PJ's since then.
I'm not suggesting the last 4 albums were bad but, for me, they had lost the "edge" I really loved in her music. is White Chalk. I first heard "When Under Ether" and "The Piano" on the radio without knowing who it was and fell in love with them almost immediately. Totally different and very much "out-there", this is quite a departure and all the better for it.
My joy is rekindled.

This album is exceptional.

I'm so very pleased :)
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on 21 September 2007
Reactions to the surprise of PJ Harvey's eighth album seemed to fall into two camps: those who miss her 'classic' angry guitar-based sound and don't think that White Chalk represents the essence of what a P J Harvey album "should" be; and those who fell under its bleak, ethereal spell.

This time Harvey is seated at the piano and sings in fleeting songs (the whole album lasts less than 34 minutes) of loss, childhood, death, family and abortion, evoking a dusty atmosphere: "The devil wanders into my soul," she sings on the opener, and "Dear darkness, dear darkness, won't you cover, cover me - again?" on the next track. Broken Harp opens with a plea: "Please don't reproach me for how empty my life has become" while the title track sees her strolling in a desolate landscape, lonely and resigned: "Dorset's cliffs lead to the sea / Where I walked our unborn child in me". Families fall apart ("Daddy's in the corner, rattling his keys. Mummy's in the doorway trying to leave"); her dead grandmother is longingly apostrophed; and her mother is invoked to "teach me to grow".

Throughout Harvey sings in a higher register than usual, wailing and impaling herself in the highest reaches of her voice - childlike, fragile and introspective (an acquired taste it seems: some have hated her for this vocal change). The atmosphere feels naked and chilly, as if recorded in a dusty room lined with cobwebs and antique furniture, and recalls the ominous air of gothic novels like Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights (1847). Even the cover, on which Polly looks like a Victorian governess in her puffed white dress and restrained pose, seems eerily reminiscent of a painting of another gothic hero: Edvard Munch's Puberty (1895).

Although it clearly represents a radical change of direction for Harvey, it is not an album without apparent influences, bearing traces of Marissa Nadler's Songs III: Bird on the Water, Nick Cave's dark tales, Björk's Vespertine and the breathy, lethargic vocals of Hope Sandoval. But Harvey nevertheless weaves her own cloth out of the thread, creating something sombre and dirge-like in the process. In a recent interview she explained that "The white chalk of the West Country hills was not consciously my inspiration at all for this record. I just like the sound of the words 'white chalk'. It can be millions of years old but erased in a second, and somehow has a timeless quality. The timelessness became more the source of inspiration." (4.5 stars)

Standouts: The Mountain, The Devil, Dear Darkness, The Piano
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on 23 February 2016
I found myself very excited to hear this album. After a good few listens now I can't pretend to be a fan of it I am sad to say. Every song seems to be in the same key and have similar cadence, and Polly doesn't really use her full range. It may improve for me on many more repeated listens, but to be honest I'm not sure i have the energy. Its beautifully produced, the packaging and photography is stunning, and I have the greatest of respect and love for PJ's work. But this one ain't for me.
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VINE VOICEon 9 October 2007
Most of the reviews of this album - both amateur and pro - have tended to focus on the effect rather than the content of these songs. It's true that the shift to piano and away from guitar is a departure, and her switch to a more ethereal vocal style may come as a surprise.

Yet ethereal is precisely what this album is. "When Under Ether" seems to recall an abortion endured semi-conscious while a child's life slips away into nothingness; in other songs she yearns for the companionship of the dead or or begs something unseen for forgiveness. She has "blood on her hands": the white chalk of her native Dorset hills sticks to her shoes. She laments her loss and pain like a banshee or a tragic Hardy heroine.

The haunting subject matter may be oblique to some, though the strange and swirling melodies and almost choral purity of her voice may bewitch those who have not encountered Harvey's music before. As an exploration of a particular kind of female agony, this set of songs is almost without parallel.
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on 2 December 2012
PJ Harvey has been creating music for some time now and consistently releasing new material every few years. Three years on from "Uh Huh Her", PJ brings us "White Chalk", her eighth studio album. It is quite different from her previous albums at it has minimal instrumentation, is much more piano and vocal led and is very haunting.

With its manic and repetitious piano rhythm, the opening song "The Devil" is aptly titled and has a sombre vocal which makes this song even more disturbing. The creative and melancholic "Dear Darkness" has a gentle Folk quality to it whilst "Grow Grow Grow" combines the overall feel of the two first tracks to create another haunting composition. "When Under Ether" is more constructed and mellow but still very dark. The title track "White Chalk" has a much stronger Country Folk influence than the other songs and is well crafted. "Broken Harp" is a quiet vocal track with a bittersweet melody. "Silence" has chaotic vocal harmonies which make PJ sound like a woman possessed, but they seem to add clarity to the melody and it ends up being by far my favorite song on here. "To Talk To You" is very eerily evocative with drawn out vocal phrasing and that crazed piano note serving as the songs only rhythm. The following song "The Piano" has very disturbing lyrics (the opening line is "Hit Her With A Hammer"!) and adds to the weirdness of this release. "Before Departure" is a peaceful and mellow song amidst the chaos and anger whilst the final song "The Mountain" takes us back to the ghost-like Goth inspired overall vibe of "White Chalk" with manic piano chords and deep vocal humming combined with witch-like screaming. What a way to end on album...

"White Chalk" takes PJ Harvey to another level of strange and disturbing. There are moments on this release that are truly poignant and enchanting, but there are moments that are quite worrying and too erratic for my liking. I have spent quite some time listening to this album and still cannot quite make my mind up whether it is another one of her masterpieces or whether it is too far out there - I guess that is what makes it so interesting in the first place.
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on 4 January 2009
As other reviewers have said, this is a melancholy affair from start to finish (although that description cetainly doesn't do it justice). It might take a few listens for you to get truly drawn into it but my experience was that it's heart wrenchingly delicate and wonderfully raw at the same time.

If you want to get an idea of what it sounds like before you buy, I'd say a cross between Philip Glass, the melancholic side of Grandaddy, the Pretenders, Lou Barlow, Ava Adore era Smashing Pumpkins and PJ Harvey of course. Actually now I've written that, the comparison seem silly - the album is so much more than that - but I'll leave it there in case it's helpful to anyone.
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on 21 September 2007
I have not been a big fan of PJ Harvey but I have always respected what she does. I listened to this new album out of curiosity. However, something astonishing happened. From the first notes of the opening track I was spellbound. I listened to the whole album not quite believing what a work of genious I was introduced to and I certainly cannot say this for many albums from the first listen. I am not going to go into great detail. All I can say is that the album is a work of genious and an instant classic. Not a typical PJ Harvey album but a stand alone work of art. I very rarely write online reviews but listening to this album I felt compelled to write one. It may not be to everyone's taste but then again nothing is. The only words I can find to describe White Chalk would be haunting, mesmerising and out of this world.
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on 23 September 2007
Where are the guitars? Where is the oft-imitated PJ Harvey aggressive growl? They're gone, and in their place is something strange and distant, driven by the piano and vocals that push the higher end of Polly Harvey's register. Lyrically it's downbeat - recurring images of death and loss abound. Somehow though it's far from depressing. Instead, it's an eerie and beautiful record that grips you from its opening chords, and its hold deepens with each listen. This is a great, great release from one of music's most distinctive voices.
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on 13 February 2010
With "White Chalk" PJ Harvey radically changes her style, turning to a quieter, more intimate atmosphere yet the power, the anguish and the intensity are still there with her talent. Songs like Grow Grow Grow and White Chalk itself are amongst her best ever.
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