If you are into the usual chicksingers propagated in this music section, you'd better think twice before trying PJ Harvey. This could be the most absorbing music you have heard, but it can be somewhat dense going for the casual listener. The voice is grotesque and rather dissonant at times. The music is an entity in itself rather than mere background backup. It has the driven rhythm of traditional blues and the intense sting of raw noisy punk. The engrossing beauty of PJ Harvey lies in the tension of both the music and the vocals. It never comes to a full explosion. Oftentimes it will swing into extremes, but it will eventually fall back on the tension it created and stay there, unresolved. Not everyone will like this. Have patience though, it may sound exhaustive but it's worth it.
The subversive characters in the lyrics of these songs are all lonely souls looking for love in the City, a place notorious for its ability to detach people from each other. The City can be tempting for those seeking the freedom, anonymity and (in)visibility that comes from urban life. But once there, the tall buildings with their pretty neon lights become claustrophobic and overwhelming and the loneliness unbearable: "Beautiful people/Beautiful girls/I just feel like/It's the end of the world/I walk on concrete/I walk on sand/But I can't find/A safe place to stand.".
This is where the Sea comes into play. If you are already familiar with PJ Harvey's earlier works, you may have already noticed the constant reoccurrence of water-themed songs. Water being a much needed escape, a resolve, a chance to release some of the pressure: "We just kind of lost our ways/We were looking to be free/But one day we'll float.". With music that leans so heavily on tension, this truly is a welcome relief.
You may wonder why some people make an effort to hear this music, that tears up skyscrapers all around you only to have them washed away a few songs later, demanding the very space and depth it initially denied. The point is that the exchange of extremes is exactly what gives this music its thrilling character. I feel that this is why some are so attracted to it.
Official PJ Harvey Website (lots of video/sound-samples)