Posing like mad Ophelia in her murky drowning pool on the cover of To Bring You My Love, PJ Harvey gets medieval on your ass. It's not just the timelessness of troubadour-esque lyrics like "Lover had to leave me/ Cross the desert plain/ Turn to me his lady/ Tell me love awaits," the olde tyme folk melodies of songs like "C'Mon Billy" or the folklore brew of subject matter -- black monsters, murdered children, Faustian pacts and blue-eyed whores. Harvey one-ups even rap's Le Shaun -- whose "sneaky freaky finger" pries guys "wide open" -- when she makes her "Long Snake Moan" in the most overwhelming testament to the power of female lust I've ever heard. Pairing a yawning desire with fuzz-chord thrusts and strap-on boasts, Harvey is both incubus and succubus, hatefucker and lover. "Call me Lazarus," she commands. "MOAN!" You'll "be drowning" in her. Unless you leave her dry.
Harvey's got her "voodoo working." If both Dry and Rid of Me were about abnegation -- of gender roles, of flesh and bone itself -- Love is a thematic wallow in the spectrum of feelings: the burn of unrequited love, the coldness of revenge, the nausea of grief. Like a voodoo queen or witch of old, Harvey milks emotion -- traditionally considered "female" -- to put a spell on you and magically transform herself in the process. The trope plays out in the many songs about maternity, but even that has its sinister side. These mothers don't just nurture, they smother, abandon and possibly molest. Harvey brilliantly ruffles the fuzzy gray area of human emotion and makes the ordinary seem terrible and strange. It's all about filling the void. Plaintive ballads like "Send His Love to Me" dissect the girlish tendency to confuse personal dissatisfaction with a need for a boyfriend; by album's end, when Harvey is swept away by the "The Dancer," it's an epiphany -- not a lover -- she gets.
Produced by Harvey and Flood (Nine Inch Nails, U2), this masterwork is at once minimalist and eerily lush. Beneath Harvey's simple, repetitive blues riffs are the ghosts of rattling bones, Spanish-flavored strings and funereal keyboards, with new band members John Parish (percussion) and Joe Gore (guitars) giving it all backbone. If Harvey is the best songwriter in rock today, she's also the best vocalist. Whether come-hither, anguished, growling or mannish, her voice settles over your skin until its every sensation becomes your own. That's black magic: "Meet Ze Monsta" in the red satin dress. -- Sia Michel
The Cry of the Turkish Fig Peddler
To all those who would dismiss this S.F. foursome as "just another guitar-noise band," give the guys some credit. At the very least, they're "yet another experimental, prog-punk, space-rock, thrash-noise band." Not that I'm complaining. Bakamono (which roughly translates into "foolish people" from Japanese) may not be the first on the block to combine powerhouse riffs, detuned guitars, obstreperous effects and shrieking, in-discernible vocals, but they do a fine job of distilling facets of the entire harsh-rock spectrum into one potent little jug of the hard stuff. Sure, they can be difficult at times, but as the old saying goes, "Good things come from those who grate." Or something like that.
From start to stop, Fig Peddler is a fairly relentless roar, firing up with an epic ode to seismic safety, "This Is an Unreinforced Masonry Building." Nearly 11 minutes long, this earthshaking opus of chugging guitar lines and sharp, dynamic shifts sets the tone for the rest of the CD. The following nine tracks all share a similar predilection for forceful riffs, complex constructions and frequent inversions. Should you require comparative imagery, envision a puree of all guitar-basher groups whose names begin with an S (Sonic, Slint, Shellac, Steelpole, et al.), then coat it with a Japanoise-flavored topping.
Though there's a certain similarity coursing through the release, "sameness" is held at bay by intriguing variations on a theme, from head-bangable up-tempo tracks like "Optimator" to the Terminal Cheesecake-ish effects abuse of the vaguely funky "Dead Zoo." Odd tapes and even odder noises add to the overall tapestry of weirdness. The in-decipherable primal-scream-through-busted-speakerphone vocals can be trying, but considering one of the few lines easily made out -- the repeated refrain, "You go get the gun and I'll go kill 'em" -- I'm not so sure I want to know what they're singing. In the end, Bakamono more than redeems itself with an uncanny knack for assembling catchy motivational soundtracks for tri-state killing sprees. -- Mike Rowell
Like their labelmates Black Moon, Smif-N-Wessun are graduates from the Bucktown School of Representing. Straight outta Brooklyn, rappers Steele and Tek take a no-frills-just-skills approach to hiphop: While the Beatminerz' production is solid as usual, it's lyrical finesse that gets the duo over. Maybe they don't talk about much more than wearing Timberlands and smoking blunts, but Smif-N-Wessun somehow make tired topics seem original. Their creativity peaks on the slow, loping "Sound Bwoi Bureill," a ragga-hiphop track with pure Brooklyn flavor ("You say you're number one wicked selector/ I say you're punanny and I wet ya.") No question about it: These boys can F-L-O-W, although I'm wondering if someone recently passed a law requiring all New York rappers to state that they're on "some reality shit." -- Eric K. Arnold