When it was announced that PJ Harvey would undertake an art installation last year in London's Somerset House, allowing audiences to watch her create her new record in a one-way glass purpose-built studio, it seemed a strange and exciting invitation. Although it is a courageous step for any artist to lay their creative process bare for the world to witness, merely metres away in this case, it felt particularly rare given Harvey has unwaveringly shied away from offering any indication as to what her next work may sound like until it is complete.

The Hope Six Demolition Project is the result of these recording sessions. Following her 2011 album, Let England Shake, where she deftly describes the experience of war and conflict throughout time, this record focuses on the present day. Across these two records, Harvey transforms herself into a sonic documentary maker. Polly travelled with war photographer and collaborator, Seamus Murphy, to Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington, D.C. where they spent periods of living and observing. The subsequent songs are descriptions of the lives and experiences she encountered in these foreign places.

The world she presents is dangerous, bleak and uncomfortable. A foreboding hangs over many of the songs: 'The Ministry of Defence' details the menacing landscape of Afghanistan before lamenting "This is how our world will end," while 'Chain of Keys' centres on a woman walking through her town wiped out by war. The lilt of the opening 'The Community of Hope' is undercut by the frustrated question - "The school just looks like shit-hole. Does that look like a nice place?" in describing the HOPE VI regeneration plans of public housing in The United States. There are points, such as the heralding of 'Near the Memorials to Vietnam and Lincoln', where the sentiments of her discoveries appear detached and far-removed as a listener. In describing such scenes which have had a profound impact, her lyrics and leaden imagery at times outweigh the melodies and stumble at engaging emotionally.

Harvey is known for her intolerance to repeat herself musically. With each record, she has attempted to take on the unknown and set herself a challenge in finding new territory for herself. However, the ground of these songs, such as 'A Line in the Sand' and 'The Wheel', are a natural progression from the realm of Let England Shake rather than a severed departure. It features a band approach with her fellow musicians singing and chanting in unison on several songs. The saxophone, which she introduced on Let England Shake, comes into the foreground and triumphs on the crunchy blues of 'The Ministry of Social Affairs'.

As a writer, Polly has developed a poetic skill of authentically embodying the lives of others through music. Her songs have progressively concentrated and considered the implication of words - how they sit and feel with each other and the way in which they are sung. In 2001, she commented in an interview with The Telegraph how she is fascinated in the "other side of life, where things aren't easy. I'm interested in how people cope with that." Her lived-experience approach to her songwriting has enabled her to seamlessly shift from the personal to the sociopolitical. 'Dollar, Dollar', which closes the album, is the only song where Harvey appears at the centre. It's a harrowing picture of a young starving boy, begging for money - as she attempts to give him something, her car pulls away before she can do so.

Like any credible documentary, The Hope Six Demolition Project observes and poses questions about humanity, and lack thereof, in the world today. The issues raised here are not an exercise in offering hope or resolution but to exactly present them as the creator sees them.


The Essential PJ Harvey Playlist


In a career that has spanned over two decades, Polly Jean Harvey has carved out a path for herself based on an intuitive aversion to repeating herself, instead she has determined to discover new territory with each record.

Her rich and challenging discography began with the arresting rock of her debut Dry and follow-up Rid of Me that captured the attention of many in her abrasive songs of the devastation of love and tackling ideologies around gender and sex. After these initial personal albums, her songwriting shifted its focus to storytelling; creating characters and narratives, which she most noticeably embodied on To Bring You My Love and Is This Desire?, allowing stories to direct where the music needed to go. This musical approach has diversified over time without aligning to a particular genre; the gleaming productions of Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea, the rough cuts of Uh Huh Her to the sparse creation of White Chalk, an album primarily written on piano. Polly's most recent work on Let England Shake, and this year's record, sees her arguably writing at her broadest and far-reaching. Both albums involved months of research, observation and travel in exploring humanity both past and present.

Regardless of the variety of both the sound and writing style of each record, the unifying thread carried through each record is her fascination with the human condition. Her music articulates emotions that can feel foreign and often bigger than us. Acknowledging her extensive body of work to date, this playlist encompasses a small selection of songs that underline the dynamic evolution of her inimitable writing. PJ Harvey is an artist with a perpetual instinct to venture on the road less travelled.


Tracklisting:

  • 'Dress'
  • 'Yuri-G'
  • 'Rid Of Me'
  • 'Shame'
  • 'My Beautiful Leah'
  • 'Good Fortune'
  • 'Grow Grow Grow' (Live Version)
  • 'All And Everyone'
  • 'One Line'
  • 'Angelene'
  • 'White Chalk'
  • 'Oh My Lover'
  • 'Black Hearted Love'
  • 'To Bring You My Love'
  • 'Stone'
  • 'Is This Desire?'