16.) PJ Harvey - Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea (2000)
Let me tell you about college - it's really fun. If you can, you should totally go to one and might I recommend one with an actual campus. Those are super rad. Why even bring this up? Well a number of the records on this list came out while I was in college, but this record, Stories Form the City, Stories From the Sea from one Miss Polly Jean Harvey, is the record that I most associate with college. That's just a personal thing, but it's tough for me to write about this record without mentioning that it scored a particularly great period in my life, much like the Walkmen record a few posts earlier. Is this to suggest that perhaps I overrate these records as a result of them being of a wonderful time and place for me? I don't think so, but say what you will. I mention it only the interest of full disclosure.
When Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea was released a mere three weeks after Radiohead's game changing Kid A, I was two months into my junior year and things were great. 9/11 hadn't happened yet, Y2K never came about and I still had two full years of fucking around ahead of me. I remember Stories From the City so well because I rated it my favorite record of the year in my college paper. Yep. Stories number 1, Kid A number 2 (I think number 5 was Brittney Spears' debut, so take this with a rather large grain of salt). I was probably being a shit stirrer, but my argument at the time was Kid A is amazing, but every time out of the gate I would rather listen to Stories. It's a more pleasant and therefore better record. I know now there's more to it, but I still view it as, at the very least, a valid conversation point.
Anyway, I had been a PJ Harvey fan for a long time when Stories was released, so for me hearing it the first few times was just like hearing PJ Harvey - wonderful. But over time I'd notice something else... PJ Harvey sounds content on this record, shit she may even be happy. That's not to say she wasn't before - there was always some type of joyful abandon in many of her songs even if they weren't "happy" - but this was a different animal altogether. the record opens with what could be a classic rock riff for goodness sake and then the song it begins, "Big Exit", finds a revitalized Harvey cooing to a lover "I'm immortal when I'm with you". Of course the rest of the song is sort of Bonnie and Clyde (though she won't directly reference them until the second track, "Good Fortune") and from what I can gather she really, really "wants a pistol in [her] hand" but you know - we'll take it.
As the record unfolds, these are revealed to be some of Polly's greatest moments on record. "Good Fortune", "This Mess We're In" and "You Said Something" are all to this day in and out of my head on any given day. Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea is just a wonderful record with stellar moments that are forever etched in my brain. When she sings backup with herself on "A Place Called Home", the way the lyric "when we walked through Little Italy" rolls so interestingly off her tongue in "Good Fortune", the grimy seediness of "This Is Love", the way her voice and Thom Yorke's chase each other in "This Mess We're In" until they finally synch up for one glorious moment toward the end to sing the song's title (two of the generations greatest voices mind you), the way "You Said Something" ends just when you think she's going to tell us what was "so important". And these are just a few, there are dozens of these moments. That the record (literally a love letter to New York) would take on a whole new meaning post 9/11 just adds to its majesty. It's one that stays with you and one that I revisit all the time.
Posted by Pat Driscoll