Free and legal MP3: PJ Harvey (semi-stripped-down, agitative)

Wherein PJ Harvey continues in a sonic landscape related to the chugging, semi-stripped-down vibe of 2011’s Let England Shake.

PJ Harvey

“The Wheel” – PJ Harvey

The first song released from The Hope Six Demolition Project, “The Wheel” has fomented controversy but I am mostly going to steer clear of it, except to note that PJ Harvey has a long and unstinting career as a musical artist and deserves respect and benefit of the doubt. And: that I think it’s foolish and close-minded to find fault with her for taking artistic risks. When writing about real places with real issues, there is always the potential for uncomfortable overlap and/or interplay between someone’s artistic vision and the real lives real people are leading. But I don’t think criticizing an obviously intelligent and talented artist based on a kneejerk and probably limited understanding of song lyrics is either helpful or interesting. And with that let’s proceed to the song.

Continuing in a sonic landscape related to the agitative, semi-stripped-down vibe of 2011’s Let England Shake, “The Wheel” is propelled by an insistent, chant-like melody. At first, each lyrical line is delivered as a stand-alone pronouncement—call and response with the response, basically. The chorus gives us a slight variation on the verse melody and now with the response filled in. Keep your ears on the edges of the carefully constructed mix, where some feisty guitar work can intermittently be heard. And check out the hand claps—I’ve always been a bit of a sucker for songs that use hand claps with which you can’t really clap along. I’m easily amused, what can I say?

And can I also note that I’m delighted to have an available free and legal download at this point in time from an artist of Harvey’s gravitas and caliber? Don’t get me wrong, I love finding lesser-known acts to feature but can’t help noticing the shrinking supply in recent years of free and legal MP3s from the not-lesser-known camp. We are indeed at the tail end of the (almost) late, (almost) great Download Era, but this is the first time I’ve been able to feature Polly Jean Harvey. I’m not sure that means anything but enjoy the offering.

The Hope Six Demolition Project will be out in mid-April on Vagrant Records. Thanks much to the good folks at KEXP for the MP3.

Free and legal MP3: Chris Hickey (acoustic, stripped bare)

And this is probably the biggest high-wire act of all in popular music—having enough faith and guts and (let’s not forget) talent to hide behind absolutely nothing. It’s just your voice and just your fingers.

Chris Hickey

“Beautiful Struggle” – Chris Hickey

And here we have Chris Hickey, who strips himself even further down than Kim Taylor, previously, recording in his South Pasadena home with just an acoustic guitar and a handheld digital voice recorder (an Edirol R-09, if there are any gearheads out there). And this is probably the biggest high-wire act of all in popular music—having enough faith and guts and (let’s not forget) talent to hide behind absolutely nothing. It’s just your voice and just your fingers.

I first heard Hickey’s music when he sent word out last year about his album Razzmatazz, which was his first solo bedroom recording, a sort of re-emergence for a musician with a long, workman-like history but no breakthrough moments, commercially. He had had a go at new wave era punk-pop in the late ’70s, with his L.A.-based band the Spoilers, and also at mainstream neo-folk music in the mid-’80s, when he put out two CDs under his own name, before moving into other folk-like band projects and doing studio work with the likes of Michael Penn and the Indigo Girls. What Hickey has that is immediately apparent, and relatively rare on the present-day indie scene, is gravitas. Not tree-trunk heavy, mothball-laden severity, but a deep, engaged presence; Hickey’s voice in fact has something of the warn, trembly huskiness of the late Warren Zevon. It’s a voice one pays heed to, particularly when used in the service of such a delicate tune, such a piercing message.

“Beautiful Struggle” was written by Mark Addison of the briefly together, semi-legendary band the Borrowers, and appeared originally on their one and only CD, in 1996. MP3 via Hickey.