Written by, Nicole Pottgen
Welcome back to album of the week! This week we will be talking about a new release from 90’s rock icon, Polly Jean Harvey. This is her 10th studio album and a noteworthy shift in tone for the gritty and alluring PJ. This is, I Inside the Old Year Dying.
The English singer-songwriter first formed a bass/drums/guitar trio in Dorset England, and released her first single on an independent label. Her debut album, Dry, was released in March of 1992 and showcased her signature high-powered vocals that are heard on the rest of her hit records. Harvey broke into the scene with a striking sound that was absolutely ridden with attitude. Her lyrics are dark, strange, and unsettling; she created vivid narratives of heartbreak, identity, sex, life and death. With her expressive vocals and heavy rock instrumentals, her music embodies female power and passion.
Released this past summer, I Inside the Old Year Dying showcases different sides of Harvey vocally, instrumentally, and thematically. One of the most notable elements of this project are her haunting, high-pitched vocals, which lend a mystic quality to the music. In track one, Prayer at the Gate, we hear these shaky, wailing vocals alongside looming instrumentals—it’s a gripping opening that also provides the intimate nature of a folk-rock record, which continues to weave its way through the rest of the album. The combination of folk instruments, electronics, and immersive field recordings establish the album’s ominous atmosphere; she develops a vivid setting that we live in throughout the album’s entirety.
Harvey truly transcends her lyricism on this record with evocative and poetic storytelling. Her verse-novel, Orlam, influenced the narratives told in I Inside the Old Year Dying, recounting memories of childhood in a curious coming-of-age tale. The lyrics are written in the Dorset dialect, which is still spoken in some rural villages. An example of this dialect can be heard in the track, I Inside the Old I Dying:
I zing through the forest,
I hover in the holway
And laugh into the leaves.
Oh Wyman, Oh Wyman.
Unray I for en.
I love the way her imagery accompanies the distorted instrumentals in this song. There are consistent elements of nature that we are enveloped in as she creates woodsy, pastoral scenes. It is slow-moving and gentle but tremendously eerie; the record’s depth allows us to feel like we are looking through the eyes of another.
One of the biggest differences on this record compared to her previous ones, is the character that is portrayed through its writing and sound. If you’re familiar with Harvey’s music, you’re familiar with her audacious and confident vocal leads. I Inside the Old Year Dying is a stunning departure from her previous works, as it depicts an intriguing narrator through her vocal performance. There is so much personality on this record and such a unique story to unravel within its lyrics.
If you’re craving an entrancing musical experience, I cannot recommend this album enough. Its beautiful weirdness will not fail to captivate you! I think the album accompanies a walk outside perfectly, especially during the changing seasons—I hope you take a listen!