PJ Harvey Halfway Returns to Her Older Sound in Her Feverish New Track, “Guilty”

PJ Harvey has released another track from the Somerset House Sessions — the monthlong recording sessions she held as an art exhibit called “Recording in Progress” — in which spectators watched recording…in progress (between Harvey and producers John Parish and Flood) through a glass. Many of the recordings ultimately made up the album The Hope Six Demolition Project, with lyrical overlap from the book of poetry Harvey released at the time, The Hollow of the Hand. Both of those works were collections of Harvey’s seemingly first-and-secondhand experiences traveling to Washington, D.C., Kosovo and Afghanistan. Which is perhaps the simplest way of saying that this is an extremely complex (and sometimes a bit convoluted) project, and that the new track, “Guilty,” comes from it with little context, as it doesn’t appear on the album. What it does come with, however, is a hint of a sound that’s reminiscent of Harvey’s earlier work. It’s also really, really good, and feverishly memorable.

I, for one, have completely enjoyed Harvey’s sonic and especially vocal transition — her rock music has taken on elements of traditional British folk and war songs, with autoharp and horns often filling in for guitar, while on her last three albums she’s predominantly used her hauntingly distanced upper register rather than the gravelly blues-steeped style for which she became known. But I also know that a lot of people miss the more visceral elements of her ’90s work, and this new song will certainly give those people the best of both worlds. Like many of the tracks on Hope Six, Harvey chants to military drums, and for the intro and verse, allows herself to sink deep into the lower notes as guitar rumbles beneath the story she’s telling, furiously building to the chorus.

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