ALBUM REVIEW: Aldous Harding – Designer

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Aldous Harding
Designer
4Ad / Remote Control

Aldous Harding’s artistic trajectory continues to billow skyward on her third album, the second produced by John Parish for the 4AD label. Long gone is the stark and fragile folk of her debut, though it still lurks under the surface of what is now lush and detailed avant chanteuse pop music.

The quirkiness of Harding’s vocal delivery has always been debated but it is a crucial component of what makes her music so compelling. She’s dialled it back on this album, ironing out some of the quirks and as a result the overall impact of this record feels slightly diluted. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of highlights. Early on, the title track is a light tripping affair with a brief chorus that dismantles the flow and gentle funk feel (reminiscent of Devendra Banhart) before it resumes for a summery run to the end of a song that seems to question the retention and spark of creativity. 

Baroque psych folk sounds enhance much of the record and come courtesy of woodwind instruments on songs such as ‘Zoo Eyes’ while ‘Treasure’ draws Harding’s vocals to the foreground. It’s good to see that the focus remains on Harding and her voice and that any temptation to make thing bigger and busier have, for the most part, been resisted.

First single ‘The Barrel’ is prime Harding with its almost hip hop backbeat over a brass sounding instrument and piano, which features widely across Designer. The song deals in issues of conformity, settling down and having parameters placed on one’s situation. Much of the album seems to one of questioning and doubt, looking for a strong moral compass to guide one through the vagaries and vulnerabilities of life. “I don’t know how to behave” Harding sings on the exquisite closer ‘Pilot’. Riding on a Tears For Fears melody and a bare piano she intones her concerns and fears. It may be decorated in almost theatrical avant-folk details but it’s a remarkably bold statement to end another strong and intriguing album from the New Zealand songwriter.

Chris Familton

NEW MUSIC: Aldous Harding – The Barrel

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Aldous Harding has announced her new LP Designer and shared the first single/video from it – ‘The Barrel’.

The new record follows her critically acclaimed 2017 album Party and was again produced by John Parish. It hits stores and online on April 26th via 4AD and Remote Control Records.

Aldous Harding – Designer

1. Fixture Picture
2. Designer
3. Zoo Eyes
4. Treasure
5. The Barrel
6. Damn
7. Weight of the Planets
8. Heaven is Empty
9. Pilot

INTERVIEW: Aldous Harding (2017)

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The New Zealand folk singer arrived with a reputation for unsettling live performances which suggested a fragile personality that was, at the same time, quite unique and creatively courageous. Aldous Harding wrote and sang like a distant echo from archaic times. It was heart-on-sleeve stuff but delivered with a a theatrical bent that sounded quite magnificent and intriguing but perhaps obfuscated the content of her songwriting. Now, on her second album Party, she continues the mystique but brings it blinking and still resolutely eccentric, into a clearer and ultimately more rewarding spotlight.

“I would’ve taken to the fucking hills back then. It wasn’t a great time,” says Harding, grimly recalling her emotional state around the time of the release of her debut album. “It’s getting easier now and I want the music to get the attention it deserves but I do still struggle with the attention in a sense that I don’t want things like rushed answers or awkward interviews or weird promo shots to detract in any way from what I want to do musically.”

This new streak of creative self-confidence and a clear vision of where Harding wants to take her music is catapulting her into a comprehensive touring and media schedule for the rest of 2017 yet, in her mind, it’s all part of the game when you’re passionately pursuing your muse. “It’s definitely a step-up in terms of what’s expected of me. In terms of press, touring, photos. I’ve always felt pressure to write good music and to be honest I do put a bit more pressure on myself to write better music but that’s what most artists do,” admits Harding. “They’re always trying to make the next one better. I just want to make better music than I do now, however I don’t even really know what that will sound like yet. I just want to write good songs and put them out with the support of a label.”

Harding travelled from the South Island of New Zealand to Bristol, England to record the album with acclaimed producer and musician John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse, Eels). That experience was surprisingly painless for someone who in the past has discussed the emotional stress of recording her songs.

“It was good, it felt natural and John made it really easy,” Harding enthuses. “We were really professional about it, not a lot of mucking around. We sat down had coffee and went straight into ‘Imagining My Man’ and didn’t stop until the record was done. There were quite a few elements and we had to figure out what I wanted to do with them, filling up songs that were written quietly. John was very patient too,” she concedes. “Perfume Genius and Laura Jean, they were two records he’d produced where I could feel where I might want Party to go and so I got his email and sent over the demos. Within three or four months I was over there. It felt like it happened really quickly.”

Party contains a more direct, less obtuse style of songwriting, particularly lyrically, yet Harding is reticent to identify any specific life events or emotional changes that may have contributed to the shift. Instead she explains it as part of her natural artistic evolution.

“Art just develops and I’m getting older and I’m listening to new music that I haven’t heard before. I definitely have a free feeling where I don’t feel like I have to write anything in particular. I’m not bound to any genre or that I have to always be dark. I’m not working from a manual, I’m just trying to write decent songs,” Harding reiterates. “ You should be able to go wherever you want.”

Chris Familton