Albums: New music from PJ Harvey, Eels, The Sherlocks and Earl Sweatshirt
PJ HARVEY – LET ENGLAND SHAKE: DEMOS
THIS 2011 Mercury Music Prize winner is regarded by many as a career best for Polly Harvey, and the stripped back nature of these unreleased demos highlight the quality of its 12 songs.
The simplicity of the heartbreaking World War One trenches elegy Hanging In The Wire underlines its continuation of the folk song tradition. The Colour Of The Earth is also about 'the war to end all wars', while The Glorious Land starts with a military style trumpet salute and warns of conflict-damaged children.
Some of the ideas on these demos made it on to the album, such as the opener and title track's use of a snatch of the Four Lads' 1950s Istanbul (Not Constantinople), as Harvey sings "England's dancing days are done".
While these demos naturally miss the rich instrumental tapestry of the originals, the stark arrangements are if anything even more powerful, with a strange and terrible beauty.
EELS – EXTREME WITCHCRAFT
RETURNING with their fourteenth studio album, Eels (headed by the ever-present Mark Oliver Everett aka E). Like fashion, music seems to be circling the alternative rock that was everywhere in the 90s. Not quite as grungy but just as dark if with a slight upswing.
Extreme Witchcraft sees E co-producing with PJ Harvey's guitarist John Parish, and the sounds are as rich as ever and hark back to the rockier sounds of the Soul Jacker period.
Standout tracks include What It Isn't, Grandfather Clock Strikes Twelve, and The Magic.
The whole of Extreme Witchcraft ebbs and flows with delicate hopeful trills, heavy drums, optimistic melodies, mixed with dirty, dark distortions and melancholic suppositions.
Nobody does beautifully bleak yet horrifically hopeful quite like the Eels.
THE SHERLOCKS – WORLD I UNDERSTAND
THREE albums in, The Sherlocks continue to carry the torch for anthemic indie rock. Few bands have remained as committed to the sound as this quartet, who continue to plough a now well-worn furrow.
Frontman Kiaran Crook and his brother Brandon on drums have recruited two new members to replace the recently departed Josh and Andy Davidson, and the new line-up has injected a novel energy into these songs.
What The Sherlocks lack in originality, they make up for in catchy choruses and enthusiasm. Tracks like Falling and City Lights will please fans with their squealing guitars and pounding beats.
But the album suffers from a lack of innovative spirit. There's little evidence the band's songwriting has evolved since their last release, 2019's Under Your Sky.
Still, The Sherlocks' newfound energy and their frontman's impassioned vocals lift this to an enjoyable listen.
EARL SWEATSHIRT – SICK!
EARL Sweatshirt first got noticed as a member of Odd Future, the provocative rap collective led by Tyler, the Creator. Since then, the California-raised rapper has taken his own path, focusing on murky lo-fi beats and inward-looking lyrics over brash experimentalism.
This has set him apart from his contemporaries, but also made his full-length releases inscrutable to some. 2018's Some Rap Songs and 2019's Feet Of Clay saw him develop his laidback delivery, but buried his lyricism under soupy layers of instrumental sound.
Sick! has more clarity.
The cinematic, moody trap beats of Vision featuring Zelooperz and album opener Old Friend point towards a greater vision, while tracks such as Lye refine his loose, jazzy vibe.
Despite the brevity of these tracks (the album stretches to just 24 minutes), listening to them feels like surfacing for air after a deep dive into the ocean depths.
Sick! is an exciting nod towards where Earl Sweatshirt could go next.