Give Up The Roast is a column that collides delicious caffeine with auditory revelry a la a bi-monthly coffee and album pairing—the perfect combination for perking you up during that midday slump. Here, columnist Shannon Shreibak investigates all of the notes, from fruit rinds and spices to perfect fifths smothered in grinding distortion. So come on all you coffee shop novelists, DIY freaks, and connoisseurs of fine taste—keep your mind here in the GUTR and catch a buzz with us.
As you may have read in 2015’s final Give Up The Roast column, I’m shaking things up around here, from the drinks to the jams. GUTR will no longer be constricted by metal and the ‘cores—now, all genres are fair game. But that doesn’t mean the levees have give way to stir ‘n go coffee and faceless tunes. I’ll be focusing on monumental albums across the board, from the post-punk pariahs to classic country crackpots.
I couldn’t resist kicking off the year with an album (and coffee roaster) near and dear to my heart. (New year, same ol’ obsessions.) And what better way to usher in 2016 than with PJ Harvey’s menacing third album “To Bring You My Love” and a cup of Four Barrel Coffee to thaw even the iciest soul?
BEHIND THE CURTAIN (BACKGROUND)
What makes PJ Harvey such an astounding artist is her chameleonic identity. Morphing from a smack talking tartlet to a lace lined countryside folkstress in less than a blink, Harvey has lived more lives onstage than most of us hope to conjure in a lifetime of daydreams. This proclivity for reinvention was a quality that initially turned me off to Polly Jean, but then I found “To Bring You My Love,” one of those miraculous “right record, right time” albums. (And aren’t those really the best ones?) Shedding the scrappy howler exterior of her debut album “Dry” in favor of cock knocking blues, Harvey finds comfort in the manic melodrama of “To Bring You My Love.”
As for the coffee…that discovery was more of a meet-cute. Scene: Me, scribbling in my journal in Nashville’s incomprehensibly soothing café Barista Parlor. Enter: Four Barrel Coffee’s Nicaragua Los Duendes. Cue: Shards of refreshing citrus, pulsing brightness, indulgent caramel undertones. It was the Hollywood ending for a girl in search of the perfect cup of black coffee.
BRASS TACKS (THE COFFEE)
Four Barrel Coffee has both the adventurous attitude and high-caliber product that can brave the otherworldly force that is PJ Harvey. The San Fransisco-based roaster’s nonchalant attitude toward life and earnestness with coffee is evident on their manifesto, but that’s just the aperitif. Past its cleverly crafted brand identity, Four Barrel is producing some of the most complex and consistent coffee in the country, thanks to its preference for longstanding relationship with its farmers. The roaster’s Nicaragua Los Duendes was my first foray into the brand, and it made a quick devotee out of me. Just let this quick ‘n dirty “personality profile” on the brew speak for itself.
“Composed and elegant, yet juicy. This coffee leaves a Pink Lady apple on the desk after class and basically runs student council, but there’s a butterscotch Schnapps stain on its white Izod.”
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a certain Polly Jean I’ve heard of, no? Roasted in a carefully calibrated vintage German roaster, the beans’ more nuanced qualities are given a spotlight to shine and please the palate. From its kick back juiciness to its dollops of butterscotch on the back-end, Los Duendes is a splendid sip for those bringin’ the love and bringin’ the noise.
WHITE NOISE (THE MUSIC)
After kicking out two career catalyzing albums and dissolving the original PJ Harvey trio (toodaloo, Robert Ellis and Stephen Vaughn), Bridport’s skuzz rock heroine PJ Harvey was poised for her watershed moment. Not only did she demolish the alt-rock canon with the unleashing of “To Bring You My Love,” but she also carved out a world of her own, both onstage and off. Trading the primitiveness of her earlier work for melodramatic flair, “TBYML” remains PJ Harvey’s breakthrough album both critically and civically.
Traversing the same American Gothic landscape as her raven-haired counterpart (and one-time lover) Nick Cave, Harvey’s narrative is God fearing yet triumphant, defeated and infuriated, starved of poetic justice and hungry for vengeance. Lush string arrangements and unrelenting swamp stomp rhythms bear the stamp of Flood, but Harvey’s guitar and organ contributions on every track stitch “TBYML” into the masterpiece ’90s alt-rock never expected.
The album’s opening and title track is pried open with oceanic reverb that electrifies the stillest of waters. That is, until Polly Jean reintroduces herself to the world she loves to loathe.
“I’ve lain with the devil
Cursed God above
To bring you my love.”
And with that gut grating howl, heeding to a blind bolt of devotion, PJ Harvey went from mere tortured blues poet to divine id destroyer.
Riding the coattails of the album’s midpoint, “C’Mon Billy” demonstrates Harvey’s expanded emotional range in both her voice and her lyrics. Her delivery over a galloping Wild West guitar melody drips with defiance, but inklings of fear leave footprints in the sand. “Long Snake Moan” wallops forth with a barn burner riff and vibraphone that twists the knife into stingers like “you wanna hear my long snake moan / you oughta see me crawl my roar” and “raise me up, Lord / call me Lazarus.” The LP’s brazenness simmers in the irresistible shimmy of “Down By The Water” and lush strings and tinny tambourine of “Send His Love To Me.”
What makes “To Bring You My Love” so resoundingly brilliant because it’s an anomaly, both in the rock canon and in Harvey’s catalog. Never again will the blues obsessed Brit dive into themes to dark and conventions so theatrical. The unstable misery of “To Bring You My Love” is laid in a shallow grave after 1995. The album does not lament for lost love or hope for retribution—the world and all the love it has to offer has collectively gone to shit, and the only sparks that are flying are off Polly Jean Harvey’s tongue.
Column by Shannon Shreibak. Go forth and be loud with her on Twitter @ShannonShreibak.