Dance Hall At Louse Point


Album: Dance Hall at Louse Point

Artist: PJ Harvey and John Parish

Released: September 23th, 1996

Highlights: Rope Bridge Crossing, That Was My Veil, Urn with Dead Flowers in a Drained Pool, Civil War Correspondent

By the time “Dace Hall at Louse Point” came out, PJ Harvey had already published three full-length records in which she had, masterfully, explored different flavors of blues-influenced garage rock. Despite her rightfully earned critical acclaim, therefore, she had yet to mutate into the musical chameleon that would go on to put together stylistically unique albums of genres such as contemporary rock (“Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea”), haunting piano balladry (“White Chalk”), and English folk music (“Let England Shake”). As such, “Dance Hall at Louse Point”, her collaborative effort with her band’s guitar player and friend, John Parish, marks the first time PJ Harvey showed signs of the multifaceted artist that lay within the rough, sexual, and violent image she had held up to that point.

Truthfully, much – or perhaps all – of the experimentation that exists within “Dance Hall at Louse Point” stems from Parish, not Harvey; after all, with the exception of one cover (“Is That All There Is?”) and two brief instrumentals (“Girl” and the title song), all tracks have their music penned by Parish, while it was left for her to focus on the lyrics. Still, “Dance Hall at Louse Point” gave listeners a first view of Harvey out of the confines in which she was musically born. The album does not completely abandon blues and rock: those are still the cornerstones on top of which the songs are constructed. However, Parish’s approach to those genres is far more unusual than Harvey’s. In common with her songwriting, Parish’s is in equal parts rough and discomforting, but while Harvey uses those characteristics to build fully formed tunes that lure listeners into their claws, Parish does not smooth the rough edges of his compositions.

Such a quality means that “Dance Hall at Louse Point” sometimes feels too unstructured or unfocused for its own good, as if it is the work of two friends who were more concerned with pushing one another to new places than with using that methodology to create music that is uniformly enjoyable. As a consequence, there are instances in which the experiments work; and there are times when the resulting pieces of music fail to be engaging. Parish’s adventurous song structures never take Harvey out of her comfort zone when it comes to lyrical themes: she is still usually penning and singing quite powerful takes on women who are either broken by a former partner or anguished over the mixed signals sent by a new potential lover. What his music does, though, is challenge her to lay down melodies over rather abrasive surfaces.

Therefore, when Harvey succeeds in doing so, the album clicks in place, as it happens in the acoustic blues of “Rope Bridge Crossing”; the folk “That Was My Veil”; or in “Urn with Dead Flowers in a Drained Pool”, which is quietly aggressive and violently explosive like Harvey’s usual brand of garage rock. On the other hand, when the melodies and music fail to stick together, “Dance Hall at Louse Point” is left meandering throughout a barren musical landscape in search of melodic centers of gravity that are just not there. As a result, PJ Harvey and John Parish join forces to produce a record that is rather irregular and that does not yield much that is truly remarkable aside from a few songs. The most important outcome of “Dance Hall at Louse Point”, though, is not the tracks contained within, but the experimental and stylistic push that it provided to PJ Harvey so that she felt willing and confident to tackle new and bold musical grounds with her future works. History has already proven such jump-start to have been quite valuable.

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