Track Review: PJ Harvey “When Under Ether”

    The first single from PJ Harvey’s seventh proper album, White Chalk, has been sneaking into BBC radio rotation, and a not-too-shabby broadcast rip has been making the Internet rounds. Though “When Under Ether” doesn’t sound as wild and furious as her early primal recordings, Ms. Harvey still knows how to unsettle. Over a minimally pretty piano loop and a quiet shuffling beat, she sings in a slight, almost hoarse voice. The lyrics take the title literally, narrating the thoughts of a drugged girl, “conscious of nothing but the will to survive.” The relaxed mood is mysterious rather than harrowing, however. Few are the female performers who could confidently handle a line progression like “I lay on the bed, waist down undressed/ I look at the ceiling feeling happiness/ human kindness.” As the lyrics play out, it becomes certain that the song is detailing an abortion, with a tone that can only be described as grateful. A provocative choice for a lead single, to say the least.