PJ Harvey: Uh Huh Her

Zeth Lundy

Pj Harvey

Uh Huh Her

Label: Island
US Release Date: 2004-06-08
UK Release Date: 2004-05-31

It's obvious from its cover photograph that Uh Huh Her is a deliberately stripped-down, lo-fi effort in comparison to PJ Harvey's previous (and arguably best) album Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea. Both focus on singer/songwriter Polly Jean Harvey's arresting visage, head cocked to engage the photographer head-on. The latter (winner of the 2001 Mercury Prize) captures her mid-stroll amidst the city's neon shine and ubiquitous traffic, dressed to the nines, clutching purse and donning shades; the former is snapped by Polly Jean herself, riding shotgun in a car covering nondescript territory, shoulders bare and locked gaze foggy yet determined. This is, in a nutshell, precisely how Uh Huh Her differs from its predecessors and succeeds nonetheless: PJ Harvey can still pack a resonant, emotional wallop, even when the recording is devoid of frills.

Uh Huh Her doesn't announce itself with a fury like Stories From the City's "Big Exit"; rather, "The Life and Death of Mr. Badmouth" methodically lumbers in with a guttural, caked-on syrup riff. Harvey sings with a weary moan, like the narrator of Stories From the City woke up at 4am, wondering where the hell she was: "Baby, you got a bad bad mouth/ Everything is poison that's coming out/ Cheating, lying since the day you were born/ Someone oughta rinse it out with soap." Harvey's delivery transforms the song into a deliciously naughty vamp, her thick fuzz guitar finding its way in the darkness next to the primal drum pattern.

"Shame" continues the album's groggy-eyed awakening, juxtaposing an unobtrusive drum loop next to Harvey's pensive croon and drugged guitar strums. "I'd jump for you into the fire/ I'd jump for you into the flame," Harvey sings over the song's so-bare-it's-nonexistent production. "Tried to go forward with my life/ I just feel shame, shame, shame." The song's melody falls like a simple jazz line over its steady backbone, the track content with its own pace and simple ambition.

The majority of Uh Huh Her is subdued and unembellished, like demo recordings that were left as-is for inclusion in the final sequencing stage. (Harvey handles the majority of the instruments, save the drum kit, which is manned by Rob Ellis, one of her core collaborators.) "The Pocket Knife" uses only guitar and tambourine for instrumentation, effectively illuminating Harvey's cryptic, warning words: "Flowers I can do without/ I don't wanna be tied down/ White material will stain/ My pocket knife's gotta shiny blade." "The Slow Drug" boasts scores of tape hiss alongside stark keyboards and harmony vocals; an empathetic lyric notes "headlights burning". Both "No Child of Mine" and "The Desperate Kingdom of Love" render an impact with absolutely no frills, Harvey's acoustic guitar and vocal as raw in presentation as was "50Ft Queenie". "I'll follow you into Heaven or Hell," Harvey promises in "The Desperate Kingdom of Love", her haunting voice and instinctive guitar playing picking up passion as a boulder barrels down a steep hill.

The warm smolder of Uh Huh Her is ignited by the inclusion of an occasional fit of temper and sensuality. "Who the Fuck?" is the record's lone sonic outburst, its bluesy guitar punch stopping and starting in tandem with the vocal. "I'm not like other girls," Harvey howls in defiance, "You can't straighten my curls." When the bass is dropped in after the first chorus, "Who the Fuck?" becomes an insolent tool of emotional swagger, ballsy and brutal, confident and bold. Mama don't take no mess. The album's first single, "The Letter", drips with Harvey's libidinous presence, elevating letter writing to a thing of sexual potency. "Put the pen to the paper/ Press the envelope with my scent," Harvey purrs with longing, later adding: "It turns me on to imagine/ Your blue eyes on my words."

To the album's naysayers rapt with feigned disappointment, it's important to keep a few things in mind. First of all, Stories From the City isn't the über-glossy, see-your-reflection-in-the-mirror polish job that many would have you believe. Sure, it has its share of lush production values, but at its core is Harvey's ragged, rough-and-tumble guitar, incapable of compromising its DIY aesthetic. Secondly, Uh Huh Her possesses a style that is reminiscent of Harvey's earlier records (Dry, Rid of Me, and 4-Track Demos). While it may not continue to forge new stylistic territory like the more recent To Bring You My Love, Is This Desire?, or Stories From the City, Uh Huh Her milks passion from its same reliable source: the pen of Polly Jean Harvey. Shouldn't that be enough? Too much emphasis is placed upon besting a perceived masterpiece, leaving an artist with nowhere to go but up when the ceiling is already inches from his/her head. If not instantly won over, give it some time; Uh Huh Her will woo its way into your head, your soul, and prominent stereo placement in no time.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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