Words by Ed King / Pic by Hannah & Liv
I could spend half this review trying to come up with a suitable genre, but I won’t. Nouns come and nouns go, whilst adjectives jump around and in front of a puzzling need to define. Goth Folk has been used by Aldous Harding herself, apparently, and I’m not even happy with that.
But if Party – the sophomore album from the New Zealand songwriter – is to be defined by anything, it’s vocals; the range of empathy and emotion that Harding’s voice can conjure is the head wagon in this caravan. From the breathy (almost frightening) ethereal interpersonal whisperings of ‘Blend’ – the album’s opening song, across the Nicoesque timbre of ‘Imagining My Man’, to the see-saw strength and selected high pitch of the title track, Party is an album of controlled extremes. Oh yeah, and dark stories; can’t forget the bittersweet nightmares. And the winner of Best Album Track Title goes to…
But there’s the production too, which supports, matches and carries the sliding scale of this dark to light nine track endevour. With John Parish behind the glass – a man known for his extensive work with PJ Harvey (but keep This Is The Kit, Goldfrapp and M Ward in the back of your mind) – subtlety was always on cards.
And as Parish is so adept at achieving the firm bedrock here is partnership; enough confidence to step back and step up at just the right time. Again, ‘Party’ is an excellent example of this. But in the context of the whole album, when the drip release chords and power ballet vocals of ‘Horizon’ boom out of nowhere it’s impossible not to sit a little straighter. Like you’re awaiting instruction.
Aldous Harding’s eponymous debut was a sterling introduction, to an artist I suspect will have more years and surprises ahead in a carefully crafted trajectory. I hope, anyway. How many people get to open an album with Baudelaire and end with Mervyn Peake? And I’ll admit, the lack of a box-ticking-quick-draw-mainstream-marketing-strategy (née pact with the devil) is incredibly reassuring. I bet Lorde is kicking herself.
You could argue that the ‘cleverness’ with Aldous Harding will be her undoing, you could. You could call for more ‘radio friendly’. You could say that signing a three album deal with any producer backs you into a corner, and sit there waiting for the Faustian duet at an MTV event. It’s happened before. Probably not on 4AD but never say never, right?
Or you could listen, listen again, Google some references, feel foolish for Googling some references and go back to listening. For whatever compels the visceral forces of Aldous Harding’s songwriting I don’t think it wants to live in a box. So we have time and now two albums to play with, to explore an artist who should continue to avoid the iTunes taxonomy and survive on a more personal perception. You can stop reading this review for a start.
‘Imagining My Man’ – Aldous Harding
Aldous Harding releases Party on 19th May – out via 4AD. For more on Aldous Harding, including tour info and online sales, visit www.aldousharding.com
For more from 4AD, visit www.4ad.com