PJ Harvey has achieved one of music’s rarest feats: a water-tight discography with few weak spots and little repetition. The lone throughline in her work is a desire to convey multiple states at once, collapsing the boundaries between dreaming and waking, euphoria and melancholy, life and death. For three decades, that approach has received unwavering adulation from fans, critics, and peers. Kurt Cobain listed Dry as one of his all-time favorite albums; three of her LPs (Rid of Me, To Bring You My Love, Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea) appear on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time; and she is the only artist to have won the U.K.’s prestigious Mercury Prize more than once.
Now in her early 50s, Harvey is bringing life to imagined worlds that resemble modern folklore, inhabited by characters rich with contradictions and duality — no more so than on her latest album I Inside the Old Year Dying, one of her strangest and most ambitious achievements yet. The project is a musical extension of 2022’s Orlam, an epic coming-of-age poem that Harvey composed over the span of eight years. Written largely in Dorset dialect, it chronicles a year in the life of its 9-year-old protagonist Ira-Abel, a West Country girl who encounters perverse horrors, spectral magic, and horny goats and gods in the English countryside.
While Harvey originally intended to turn her poem into a piece for the theater, the words took on a new life when she applied them to piano and guitar. That rush followed a period of musical silence from Harvey. The exhaustion caused by her last tour in 2017 had prompted an existential reckoning, and she wondered whether she’d lost her touch or if her love for music had dwindled. Now, as she prepares for her first tour in six years — with stateside shows due for fall 2024 — Harvey seems to have refound her purpose: “I feel excited and ready and confident that the show is a strong one. This show with my band isn’t really connected to Orlam. I think that I Inside is a strong piece of work that stands on its own. I don’t think that that piece needs Orlam to be understood and so we’re really presenting the album as well as my back catalog of songs. It’ll be a look at all of my material over the years but with a concentration on the latest album."