PJ Harvey remains as beguiling and determinedly experimental on her eighth studio album, "Let England Shake," as she has throughout her iconoclastic two-decade career. Here, she eschews the constrictive piano basis of her last release, 2007's "White Chalk," for warmer, more varied sounds. The set was recorded live in a 19th-century church in her native Dorset, England, with longtime collaborators John Parish, Mick Harvey and producer Flood. While the sound is looser with strummed acoustic guitar, sax, autoharp and brushed drums, it contrasts sharply with Harvey's thematic adherence to war, guns, bloodshed and bleak landscapes. But that doesn't mean you won't stomp your feet to chants of "evil land" and "evil children." There's heady sampling including bits of "Reveille," a woman's Arabic chants on the song "England" and the repeated Eddie Cochran line from "Summertime Blues" ("I'm gonna take my problems to the United Nations") that suddenly takes on genocidal implications. The standout moment, among many, is the warbling track "Written on the Forehead" with a heavily processed psychedelic swirl dovetailing seamlessly with Niney the Observer's reggae classic "Blood and Fire." Warfare has never sounded better.
PJ Harvey, "Let England Shake"
- Album Review