Tag Archives: James Blake

2019 in Review: 25 Favorites

Last one, y’all. I promise. Here are 25 non-instrumental, non-jazz, non-audiovisual, non-RVA albums that meant a great deal to me in 2019. Counting the other posts, I believe this sets a new high water mark for number of albums I’ve blurbed at the end of the year. I want to thank my mom for editing the RVA post, and Mrs. YHT for understanding why this quixotic quest to document the year’s listening is so important to me.

As with the other posts, these aren’t ranked. Alphabetical order. See y’all in 2020.

African Acid Is The Future – Ambiance II

This was a gift from Mrs. YHT. Les Filles de Illighadad remixed? With some additional Afrobeat thrown in? Sign me up. The best part — I ended up getting to see Les Filles in person at the University of Richmond later in the year. What a gift that was, and spinning this album is how a prepped for that performance.

Bedouine — Bird Songs of a Killjoy

This whole album is written, arranged, and played beautifully, but do me a favor and spend some time with “Echo Park.” Put on headphones and really listen to the details. The effect on the backing vocals. The winding instrumental journey that runs from 1:16 to 1:43, and the mesmerizing breakdown that follows it. It’s like a painting that’s stunning from a distance and even more compelling up close. Then zoom back out an enjoy the rest of the album, because each track is rewarding in its own way.

Better Oblivion Community Center — S/T

I keep coming back to this record. It’s sad. It’s sturdy. It’s comforting. It’s been a good friend throughout 2019, and “Chesapeake” is an all-timer. In fact, I’m adding it to my “All Time” playlist, which is home to the songs that mean the most to me in the whole wide world. That image of parents and children both coming together and growing apart with music as the backdrop — it’s so wrenching, yet the song’s tone is so gentle. Could be my favorite song released this year.

Big Thief — Two Hands
Big Thief — U.F.O.F.

There are times when you look back and realize you’d experienced something incredible. Raising kids is that way. It’s hard to know how special a time is until it’s gone. Other times, you’re knee-deep in incredibleness and you know it. That’s what it’s been like to follow Big Thief this year. An A+ album in U.F.O.F. A surprise unmarked 7-inch mailed to those of us who pre-ordered U.F.O.F. Then another A+ album in Two Hands. I like to imagine this is what it was like to be a Stevie Wonder fan in the early 1970s — amazing music coming at you at a furious pace, and a constant sense of amazement that it’s happening.

James Blake — Assume Form

I remember the jolt generated by seeing Rosalía’s name among the contributors to Assume Form. She and Blake have both mastered the art of haunting understatement, and while there’s lots to like about this album, “Barefoot in the Park” has been my main takeaway.

Bon Iver — i,i

A memory that will stick with me for a long time: Listening to the “Holyfields” Song Exploder while cleaning out my childhood bedroom.

Bill Callahan — Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest

Just gonna leave this here:

True love is not magic
It’s certainty
And what comes after certainty
A world of mystery

Chris Cohen — S/T

I won Small Friend’s anniversary grab bag drawing back in March, and an advance CD copy of Chris Cohen’s self-titled album was part of the haul. I listened to it over and over in the car, marveling at the way it marries folk music and modal jazz. At least I think that’s modal jazz I’m hearing. I almost put this in the jazz post, but thought that might be going too far out on a limb, given my limited understanding of music theory. But give it a listen and tell me you don’t hear shades of Kind of Blue — the way the songs shift from one musical space to another with tremendous grace.

Jake Xerxes Fussell — Out of Sight

A highlight of 2019: getting to shake Jake Xerxes Fussell’s hand and buy a record from him when he opened for Mountain Man at Richmond Music Hall back in March. I thanked him for his music, and we chatted for 30 seconds or so. Seemed like a nice person — his demeanor is an easy one, just as his delivery on his recorded material seems effortless. But seeing him perform was totally thrilling; there’s a sense of significance around the songs he sings, because of the way he bridges the musical past and present, and because of how proficiently he draws on tradition. I was standing near the back, and I remember being thankful I couldn’t see his guitar work — it made what he was doing seem magical. I feel very lucky to have been there for that show. (Mountain Man was excellent as well.)

Steve Gunn — The Unseen in Between

You how you know an album is good? When it comes out and you listen to it a whole bunch, then you see the artist later in the year and think you’re hearing songs you love from previous albums, only to realize they’re the new songs you fell in love with earlier that year. That’s exactly what happened when I saw Steve Gunn at Richmond Music Hall in May. The songs on The Unseen in Between have become old friends in no time at all. “New Familiar” indeed.

Helado Negro — This Is How You Smile

The grace and goodness of This Is How You Smile are immeasurable. The air in the room changes when this is playing, like you’re being invited to pause your life and hop on a wavelength of hard-earned peace and clarity.

Hiss Golden Messenger — Terms of Surrender

I start to feel healing happen the moment a Hiss Golden Messenger song starts playing, so a new Hiss album being released is like being handed a go-bag of medicine and provisions that can will me get through another year in this sad, nutty political environment. Like, “Here, you’ll need this.” I’m so grateful for the music M.C. Taylor makes, and Terms of Surrender is another winner in my book.

Brittany Howard — Jaime

A major regret of 2019 is not having caught Brittany Howard on her Jaime tour, but I did catch a full performance that was streamed online. So damn good. And I got downright giddy when she launched into “Breakdown,” my favorite late-career Prince song. This album is brave, varied, immersive, and affecting. Side note: I’d recommend her Broken Record interview with Rick Rubin. It’s as clear a window I think I’ve gotten into Howard’s process as a musician, and they talk about ghosts and aliens at the end.

Jr Jr — Invocations/Conversations

This double album would be a miracle based on the songs alone. Tracks like “Day In, Day Out,” “Low,” “NYC,” and “Big Bear Mountain” are evidence that Jr Jr is reaching a rarified level when it comes to crafting pop songs. But knowing what they went through on the business side — having to fight for song rights, waiting years to release the album they wanted to release — makes Invocations/Conversations seem even more miraculous. It’s a gem.

Mdou Moctar — Ilana (The Creator)

Loved his previous electric albums. Loved his acoustic album. Loved seeing him live. Loved his Third Man live album. It’s all fantastic, yet somehow, his true studio debut is still a revelation. It’s like when Jim Carrey reaches the wall in The Truman Show and walks through the door into this whole other world that’s waiting for him. The sky is the limit for Mdou. Can’t wait to see where he goes next.

Nivhek — After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house

There’s music that’s comforting, and then there’s the stuff you listen to at your lowest — stuff that keeps you afloat when it feels like you’re about to sink. “dlp 1.1” from William Basinski’s Disintegration Loops, for example. It’s like I’m carrying around a life preserver, accessible by opening up Spotify on my phone. (Easier to carry around than a real life preserver. Less bulky.) After its own death / Walking in a spiral towards the house was my Spotify life preserver this year. I listened to it over and over, and I when I did, it felt like I was disappearing into it.

Daniel Norgren — Wooh Dang

If I gave out an annual award for the album that felt like I’d heard it a million times before upon the very first listen, this one would be the clear winner. I can remember going running with this and zoning out and in with the album’s flow, which is easy and organic. I ended up snagging the fancy-pantsy Vinyl Me, Please version because I love it so much. A used standard copy was on sale at Plan 9 for weeks and weeks. If it’s still there, go pick it up immediately, for the love of all that’s good and decent.

Angel Olsen — All Mirrors

“Lark,” y’all. Holy shit. I picked up a copy of All Mirrors on its release day, which happened to be the day Mrs. YHT and I were traveling to Asheville, NC to celebrate our 10-year anniversary. I asked if we could stop by Harvest Records real quick — not to look around, just to get this — and was surprised to see how many they had in stock. It was the kind of quantity you’d have if the artist were doing an in-store performance. When we got to our B&B, I set up my portable record player, started spinning the album, and pulled up Olsen’s Wikipedia page. Sure enough, it lists Asheville as her (current) hometown. Weird, eh?

Jessica Pratt — Quiet Signs

So spooky. So beautiful. I re-listened to side A today and marveled once again at the uniqueness of the mood set by Quiet Signs. It’s unlike anything else I heard all year — not sad, exactly, and not trippy. It’s interstitial, like she found a dimension in between this world and another. (Come to think of it, the album cover does kinda look like when Matthew McConaughey was floating behind the bookcase in Interstellar…)

Joe Pug — The Flood in Color

It’s too late for Christmas/Hanukkah gift recommendations, so put this in your back pocket for a vinyl-loving family member’s birthday — Joe Pug sells a bundle of his whole discography, including his debut Nation of Heat EP. Color vinyl and everything. My in-laws got it for me last Christmas, and it’s brought me a great deal of joy this year. Speaking of 2019, the Big Pug Bundle (it’s not really called that, I promise) grew by one excellent album this year, as Pug released The Flood in Color, which contains some of his sharpest writing yet.

Joan Shelley — Like the River Loves the Sea

That thing where you a song grabs your attention and puts a songwriter on your radar, and then the next new album wallops you with a whole new set of songs, each delivering on what you loved about that original song? This is one of those. “Wild Indifference” put Joan Shelley on my radar in 2017, and Like the River Loves the Sea has been an incredibly generous second chapter in getting to know Shelley’s music. Were I to make a top songs of the year post, “The Fading” would be on it.

Shovels & Rope — By Blood

Dunno about y’all, but to my ears, By Blood is indicative of a leap in songwriting, placing Michael Trent and Cary Ann Hearst in a whole other echelon of lyricists. These stories are so richly rendered, and while you still get their signature sound and energy, you get to live through fully formed narrative experiences. “Mississippi Nuthin'” may be my favorite of this set. So powerful. So uncanny. Like they’re talking about a friendship from your own past that you’re scared to confront.

Bruce Springsteen — Western Stars

This album has a cinematic quality that grabbed me, and I’m not surprised Springsteen turned it into a documentary film. Maybe I’m saying this because I listened to it a bunch while at my mom’s house in Norfolk, but I think my dad would have loved Western Stars. He loved old movies, and romanticization of the American West was right up his alley.

Vampire Weekend — Father of the Bride

My personal AOTY. I made more memories with this album than any other in 2019. Excitedly listening to the first few tracks, celebrating with friends via text on release day, delightedly opening my copy when it came in the mail and finding the band had signed it, seeing the band at the Norfolk stop and marveling at their merch operation, making videos of singing “2021” with my kids, spinning the album during family dinners… Father of the Bride soaked into so much of my 2019. I can’t imagine the year without it.

Whitney — Forever Turned Around

My daughter loves Whitney, and for the first time, I got to share the excitement of a new album rollout with her. Listening to singles in the car ahead of release day. Opening up our vinyl copy when it came in the mail. Spinning it at home a bunch of times over those next few days. Together, those moments form a memory I’ll hold onto dearly.

A few more albums I loved in 2019 (I’ll probably keep adding to this):

Tyler Childers — Country Squire
Justin Townes Earle — The Saint of Lost Causes
Dori Freeman — Every Single Star
Itasca — Spring
Durand Jones & The Indications — American Love Call
Anna Meredith — FIBS
The Mountain Goats — In League with Dragons
Panda Bear — Buoys
Sharon Van Etten — Remind Me Tomorrow
John Vanderslice — The Cedars

More 2019 in Review

2019 in Review: Instrumental
2019 in Review: Jazz
2019 in Review: Audiovisual
2019 in Review: RVA

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Friday News and Notes

Simpsons

A few Friday News and Notes items to finish out the week:

  • CD Monday update: The Sufjan song is excellent, and I enjoy the Rafter track, but the real winner is the Helado Negro song I posted on Monday. Baby YHT (who isn’t really a baby anymore — maybe she should be Toddler YHT for now?) even liked it and gave it the “Again!” seal of approval a couple times.
  • I can’t remember what day this week it was, but I had to get out of the car right when Marketplace was starting a story about Radiohead’s finances and, presumably, how they start new companies for each record they release. Bandmate 4eva Doug unknowingly came to the rescue by sending me this Guardian article about the same thing a day or two later. Interesting stuff, I think. Maybe I need to start a couple corporations for YHT, especially now that I bought an actual domain for the site.
  • Hey! I forgot to tell y’all! I bought youhearthat.com, so there’s that. Feels like I got my own little plot on this great big internet, and it feels like I should be saying that while standing with a cup of coffee in one hand and a suspender strap in the other, looking out over my growing crop of blog posts through the early morning haze. That’s how the internet works, right…
  • James Blake? Gooood. Radiohead? Goooood. Beyoncé? I trust that it’s good, but I still haven’t heard more than a couple songs. I don’t want to pay to download it, since it might come out on vinyl at some point, and it’s not on Spotify, and I’m not about to sign up for Tidal while I’m still paying for Spotify Premium, so…
  • A+ Friday Cheers tonight, y’all: Phil Cook and Shovels & Rope. Don’t miss it. And might I suggest heading to the Broadberry after for The Big Payback and Life on Mars?

I’ll be heading up to NYC this weekend, which makes three trips up 95 in four weekends. Yet somehow I still get a kick from zooming through E-ZPass only toll lanes. It doesn’t take much.

Have great weekends! See y’all tonight at Cheers!

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Friday News and Notes

Friday Cheers

Happy Friday Cheers, y’all! A few News and Notes items to celebrate the start of my favorite 1/6 of the year:

  • An article I wrote about Friday Cheers and Lucy Dacus for River City Magazine just hit the interweb yesterday. Stephen Lecky and Lucy Dacus are such tremendous people and tremendous contributors to this musical community (who happen to have the same birthday, which happened to happen this week), and getting to meet and interview them meant fulfilling two huge #rvamusic bucket list items. I hope you’ll click here to check the article out or grab a print copy, which has a really snazzy “Cheers to Cheers” cover. Speaking of Friday Cheers…
  • The season kicks off tonight with The Soul Rebels and Mighty Joshua & the Zion #5. Wanna hear something crazy? Mighty Joshua has that same birthday! As Stephen Lecky pointed out on Twitter, this calls for a party on Brown’s Island. How does tonight sound? It may be a little wet, but some of my absolute favorite Friday Cheers experiences have been in the rain. Charles Bradley, the Funky Meters… I’m sure this week will follow suit.
  • Lots of great new music this week. Radiohead’s new songs are instant classics, James Blake has a new album out today (I’ve yet to hear it the whole thing, but what I’ve heard I love), and I’m really digging this new Red Hot Chili Peppers song.
  • CD Monday update: What a wild ride. Sunrise can feel disconnected, and my lasting impression of it will be as a collection of individual moments, but one endearing constant glued the whole thing together for me: Masabumi Kikuchi scratchily singing along with his piano parts. His voice borders on a growl, and while it’s quiet, it’s almost always there, so it’s something of a reassurance amid the chaos. NPR described his voice this way: “His hazy voice is like a walkie-talkie transmission from the moon. It’s too weird to dislike.” Well put.
  • The Broadberry is the place to be this weekend. Clair Morgan’s release party tonight, People’s Blues of Richmond’s release party Saturday night. If you find a good enough overnight hiding place, you might not have to leave all weekend! Speaking of show recommendations, I highly recommend following along with Drew Necci’s RVA Must-See Shows. Great advice from one of Richmond’s most thoughtful and knowledgeable music journalists (she’s also one of the contributors to Off Your Radar).

Have a great weekend, y’all. Don’t forget Mother’s Day!

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Moses Sumney

Moses Sumney

Days like yesterday are why I love reading and writing about music. All of this happened within the span of a few hours:

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Top 10 Albums of 2013

Countdown gif

It’s customary to start year-end lists by chewing some fat about how making them is strange and difficult work, and in general, I find that these intros can be exceedingly skippable. Everyone knows that album rankings are subjective (even when they’re created on behalf of a publication or website), and no one needs to be reminded that the list maker didn’t listen — and couldn’t have listened, of course! — to every single thing that came out in the preceding 12 months. You don’t share Santa Claus’ knack for bending the space-time continuum. Understood. But before I get to my Top 10 albums, I would like to share a quick story about how I came up with my list, and how Beyoncé helped me find meaning in this whole strange and difficult exercise.

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Tournament Album Coverage, Vol. 2

Couch Cat 2

For those of you who missed Volume 1 of YHT’s Tournament Album Coverage, I spent last weekend glued to my couch, watching the first rounds of the NCAA Tournament in a most gloriously sloth-like fashion. I can think of no better occasion for acting like a shut-in and no better way to enhance the experience than muting the television and choosing your own soundtrack for each game. (There’s only so much of Jay Bilas’ voice I can take before I just start yelling at the TV screen like a crazy person.)

With a few exceptions, things took a decidedly more contemporary turn after Friday night’s Garfunkel-fest. Below, I’ve posted the art for everything my friends and I listened to on Saturday and Sunday, along with a sample song and a context-free quote from someone in the room about each record.

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Cover Tennis

I have some pretty strange eating habits. Mind if I share one? I promise to make it snappy. It involves Hot Tamales, which are almost certainly Mrs. YHT’s favorite non-chocolate candy. Whenever I manage to wrest one away from her, I apply squishing pressure to either end of the capsule-shaped Tamale until it looks like how movies sometimes depict catastrophic explosions in space (it more closely resembles this yo-yo, but that’s not nearly as dramatic, is it?). Once the capsule’s modification is complete, down the hatch it goes. I don’t know how my Hot Tamale ritual started, and I sure as hell don’t know why it makes me so happy. It just does.

I have a listening habit just as idiosyncratic that I’d like to share, and unlike the candy custom above, you can join in on the fun right this very minute! It has to do with cover songs. Often, when I find a cover I really like, I’ll listen to it, then listen to the original version, then the cover again, then the original again, cover, original, cover, original, over and over, until I absolutely, positively have to take my headphones off and and pay attention to something else. A little crazy, right? I’d say it’s like being a tennis spectator, glancing left and right to follow a rally, but if I’m being honest, it’s more like being the ball. And as nutty as it may sound, I could go on forever like that, comparing the songs, finding little differences in the phrasing of the lyrics, trying to imagine why certain decisions were made during the respective recording processes.

Wanna play a little cover tennis? C’mooooooon, it’s super fun. I’ve picked out three pairs of tunes, and I’ve even assigned a tennis player (two of whom are competing in the London Olympics) to each pair, based on how obsessed with them I’ve become. So let’s crack open a new tube of balls, take a sniff — because it’s the best smell in the universe — and get to thwackin’!

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Harmonimix

For the longest time, I had no idea that “Crazy Little Thing Called Love” was a Queen song. This totally blew my mind when I first found out. The song’s rockabilly simplicity and Elvis-tinged vocals scream 1959, not 1979 — the latter being the year Freddie Mercury reportedly penned the tune while lounging in a hotel bath tub. If I had to trace the emotional pathway that led away from this revelation, it would probably look a little something like this:

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YHT Top 10 Albums of 2011, Part 2

(click here if you missed Part 1)

Welcome to Part 2 of YHT’s Top 10 Albums of 2011, also known (as of this very moment) as the High Five! Before continuing, I highly recommend high-fiving the first person you can find, or if no one’s around, simply accept the internet high five above. Yay! OK, let’s finish 2011 off in style…

5. James Blake — James BlakeJames Blake

Dubstep not your cup of tea? Mine neither! But so much of what James Blake does well has nothing to do with wobbly bass or sub-bass or wobbly sub-bass. Take his minimalism, for example. A track like “Lindesfarne” builds so much tension via empty sonic space that by the time the track is in full-swing, it feels like your heart is going to explode, even though his version of “full-swing” is still relatively sparse. He’s also capable of making songs feel emotional, regardless of what’s going on lyrically. In some ways, James Blake is like the musical equivalent of the plastic bag from American Beauty — an object of creation that seems simple on the surface, but as you continue to fill it with your own emotions its meaning becomes almost overwhelming. Then, like I said, your heart explodes. Boom. Just like that. Listen to “Lindesfarne” below, read more here and here, and buy here.

James Blake — “Lindesfarne

4. Fleet Foxes — Helplessness BluesHelplessness Blues

I don’t know if I would have made it through this past year without Helplessness Blues. 2011 was a time of exciting change for me (this blog being one big development), and the Fleet Foxes’ latest effort resonated deeply, touching heavily on themes of transformation and self-determination. I fell in love with the album’s exhilarating title track, which manipulates momentum so brilliantly, but our affair was sidetracked abruptly when I heard “Someone You’d Admire,” a hymn-like song with lyrics that offer both an admission of personal defeat and a reaffirmation of the ongoing inner-struggles that push us to get out of bed in the morning and keep fighting. Wow. This blurb certainly got serious. Here’s a video of a monkey riding a dog! Better? Great! See what I mean about “Someone You’d Admire” below, read more here, and buy here.

Fleet Foxes — “Someone You’d Admire

3. Bon Iver — Bon IverBon IverBON IVER AT #3? I WILL NOT STAND FOR THIS! GOOD DAY SIR!

Wait for it…

Wait…

[DOOR SLAMS]

Alright, now that that guy is gone we can have a rational conversation about Bon Iver, one of the most ambitious albums I’ve heard in a long time. In my mind, making this album was an act of extreme musical courage. It would have been easy for Justin Vernon to dust off the For Emma, Forever Ago recipe and make another batch of the same bittersweet-yet-delicious confections, but he went so much further with his second full-length, thickening the batter with diverse instrumentation and bold stylistic leaps. Out of the oven came songs that feel radically different, even though they bear the same yearning falsetto that so many people have grown to love since 2008. So why do I have it ranked at number #3? Um… I dunno it just kinda felt like the right place. Listen to “Holocene” below, read more here, here and here, and buy here.

Bon Iver — “Holocene

2. Alabama Shakes — Alabama Shakes EPAlabama Shakes EP

Why is this one’s album art smaller? Is it because it’s just an EP, and it’s size is being represented in correlation with its running length? Actually no. For some mysterious reason I couldn’t resize the image. Oops. Besides, if I had to represent how impactful this album has been, I would need a shit-ton more pixels. Probably more pixels than any other album on this list. The Alabama Shakes have landed on so many year-end “Best New Artist” lists with just these four soulful rock songs and some YouTube videos, making this album the pound-for-pound, hardest-hitting release of the year. I’m still recovering from being slugged by their early-December show at the Jefferson in Charlottesville, VA, and I’m beside myself with anticipation for the next time they’re anywhere near Richmond. Listen below to “You Ain’t Alone,” which is just a scary-good song in my opinion, read more here and here, and buy here.

Alabama Shakes — “You Ain’t Alone

1. Gillian Welch — The Harrow & The HarvestThe Harrow and the Harvest

The top spot goes to the album I played more times from start to finish than any other this year. When The Harrow & the Harvest came out, a big deal was made about how long it had been in the making — 8 years had passed since Welch’s last release — but this is no Chinese Democracy. Many of these tracks were captured on the first take, giving the album a natural, lighting-in-a-bottle feel that stands in stark contrast to their remarkable quality. I read that she and David Rawlings started a few recording projects in the years between this album and her last, but they abandoned each one because they weren’t convinced that the material up to snuff. These songs sure as hell are, and though nothing’s perfect, “Hard Times” is as close to a perfect song as I heard in 2011, offering a pure, heart-wrenching, two-by-two pairing of verse and chorus, guitar and banjo, her voice and his. Take a listen below, read more here, and buy here.

Gillian Welch — “Hard Times

Before you go, I just wanted to say thank you so much for reading You Hear That in 2011. It means so much to me that you’re reading this here blog, and I’m beyond excited for what’s in store in the future. I hope you have a wonderful New Year’s Eve, and that your 2012 is 1000% better than the Mayans said it would be. Now let’s all go get hammered, call cabs and get home safe and sound!

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PJ Harvey

You know what’s crazy to think about? England. And not just because the Prime Minister’s Questions is a real thing. What’s crazy is how so many of the most important bands are English. It’s bonkers. The Beatles. Led Zeppelin. The Rolling Stones. The Who. Radiohead. Or as I like to call them, Beatledzeppelingstondiwhohead. I could list many more, but you get the idea. Moral of the story? We must keep an eye/ear on them Brits. A great way to do so is The Mercury Prize. It’s given out to the best British album of the year, and I found out about it when Thom Yorke’s Eraser was nominated a few years back. The award show itself is amazing — this year’s included performances by nominees James Blake, Elbow, Metronomy, Ghostpoet and a wild one by winner (for the second time — she won in 2001, as well) PJ Harvey. If you like autoharp and antlers made out of feathers, this is your JAM. Given that I’m just starting to listen to her music, this fragile yet forceful rendition of “The Words That Maketh Murder” is quite the captivating introduction, and I’m excited to learn more about why some of my favorite musicians were so congratulatory in the wake of the ceremony (Jason Isbell tweeted his approval by saying “Screw you to the world for not already giving her EVERY prize we have”). Check out the video of her performance above, listen below and buy her Mercury Prize winning album Let England Shake here.

PJ Harvey — “The Words That Maketh Murder

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