I Inside the Old Year Dying

I Inside the Old Year Dying

Like it did for listeners, Polly Jean Harvey’s 10th album came to her by surprise. “I'd come off tour after [2016’s] Hope Six Demolition Project, and I was taking some time where I was just reassessing everything,” she tells Apple Music of what would become a seven-year break between records, during which it was rumoured the iconic singer-songwriter might retire altogether. “Maybe something that we all do in our early fifties, but I'd really wanted to see if I still felt I was doing the best that I could be with my life. Not wanting to sound doom-laden, but at 50, you do start thinking about a finite amount of time and maximising what you do with that. I wanted to see what arose in me, see where I felt I needed to go with this last chapter of my life.” Harvey turned her attention to soundtrack work and poetry. In 2022, she published Orlam, a magical realist novel-in-verse set in the western English countryside where she grew up, written in a rare regional dialect. To stay sharp, she’d make time to practise scales on piano and guitar, to dig into theory. “Then I just started,” she says. “Melodies would arise, and instead of making up vowel sounds and consonant sounds, I'd just pull at some of the poems. I wasn't trying to write a song, but then I had all these poems everywhere, overflowing out of my brain and on tables everywhere, bits of paper and drawings. Everything got mixed up together.” Written over the course of three weeks—one song a day—I Inside the Old Year Dying combines Harvey’s latest disciplines, lacing 12 of Orlam’s poems through similarly dreamy and atmospheric backdrops. The language is obscure but evocative, the arrangements (long-time collaborators Flood and John Parish produced) often vaporous and spare. But the feeling in her voice (especially on the title track and opener “Prayer at the Gate”) is inescapable. “I stopped thinking about songs in terms of traditional song structure or having to meet certain expectations, and I viewed them like I do the freedom of soundtrack work—it was just to create the right emotional underscore to the scene,” she says. “It was almost like the songs were just there, really wanting to come out. It fell out of me very easily. I felt a lot freer as a writer—from this album and hopefully onwards from now.”

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