PJ Harvey image for 'I Inside the Old Year Dying' album tour

A SLIGHT RETURN – ‘I Inside The Old Year Dying,’ PJ Harvey’s First Album In Seven Years, Is A Spooky, Stripped Back, Ethereal Song Cycle

I Inside The Old Year Dying, PJ Harvey‘s first proper audio album in seven years follows a period of intense introspection.

One of the UK’s most original and successful artists, Harvey became so consumed by the endless merry-go-round of albums and tours that she felt she’d lost connection with her music.

As with 2016’s The Hope Six Demolition Project, she got her mojo working again by finding inspiration in her own verse.

This time it’s her narrative poem Orlam, which draws heavily on the myths and folklore of her native Dorset, providing the impetus for her musical compositions.

Less immediate than her two big beasts; Mercury Music Prize winning albums Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea (2001) and Let England Shake (2011), I Inside… is an altogether more fragile creature.

Otherwordly and ethereal – PJ Harvey

Crafted with longtime collaborators John Parish and producer Flood, it’s an intimate 12-song cycle, with an emphasis on spontaneity and minimalism.

Harvey sings mostly in a higher register, lending the songs an almost childlike innocence.

Like Orlam, the lyrics are in her own version of West Country vernacular, adding an otherworldly layer of mystery.

Mostly played on acoustic guitar and piano, the songs are so sparsely arranged they sound like ancient found recordings.

One concession to modernity is a whirring, murmuring electronica running through several of tracks, like a sinister engine lurking under the soil, which then bursts forth in the urgent primal, album closer A Noiseless Noise.

PJ Harvey -  Lwonesome Tonight (Official Visualiser)
Are you Lwonesome Tonight?

It’s no surprise that all the songs “came out” of Harvey in the space of three weeks, as they feel very much bound together, like variations on a theme.

Transition; from child to adult, life to death and death to renewal, is an abiding motif – often going hand-in-glove with images of nature, both nurturing and cruel.

Gothic tropes of ‘baskets full of shadows’, ghosts and angels flitter in and out, along with the occasional jarring juxtaposition, Elvis, God and Jesus in the same breath on Lwonesome Tonight.

There’s real warmth and another Elvis reference in the ‘”Love me tender, tender love” of A Child’s Question, August – a duet with actor Ben Whishaw.

Elsewhere there’s an air of disquiet, of things not quite as they should be: ‘With the silence upside down/Horse atop the rider’, she sings in The Nether-edge.

I Inside the Old Year Dying 2023 album cover art
I Inside the Old Year Dying cover art, by Michelle Henning, from an illustration by PJ Harvey

It’s the kind of album the words ethereal and melancholic were created for and shows Harvey’s capacity for re-invention.

Wilfully avant-garde and spooky it may be, but give it a few listens and you’ll find I Inside The Old Year Dying‘s creeping vines winding their way into your consciousness.

Harvey begins a sold out UK tour in September (2023), with European dates to follow, and It will be intriguing to see how these new songs merge with her estimable back catalogue.

  • I Inside the Old Year Dying is out now via Partisan Records. Order here
  • PJ Harvey tours the UK from 25 September to 3 October. Full dates on this link
  • More about PJ Harvey on Twitter, Instagram,  Facebook and her Website
PJ Harvey - I Inside the Old I Dying (Official Video)

About the author

Full time journalist, music lover (obvs) and truly terrible guitarist. You can find Matt on twitter @matcatch