An artist of rare calibre, Aldous Harding does more than sing; she conjures a singular intensity. Her body and face a weapon of theatre, Harding dances with steeled fervor, baring her teeth like a Bunraku puppet’s gnashing grin.
Igniting interest with her eponymous debut album released in 2015, Aldous Harding quickly became known for her charismatic combination of talent, tenacity and shrewd wit. The album drew attention and accolades from some of the most illustrious corners of the music industry.
Her debut release with 4AD, Party (produced with the award-winning John Parish; PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse) introduces a new pulse to the stark and unpopulated dramatic realm where the likes of Kate Bush and Scott Walker reside. “Understated yet charismatic, Harding has the gift of making reality seem like a very fragile and porous thing indeed”, said Q magazine in a five-star review.
Comprising a formidable clutch of songs, 2017’s Party sees Harding shape-shift through a variety of roles: chanteuse, folk singer and balladeer – all executed with her twisted touch of humour, hubris and quiet horror. In other words, she’s having a good time. Stretching her limbs with playful cunning; every note, word and arrangement posed with intellect and inventiveness.
Party has seen Harding’s trajectory propel her into international spotlight. “An instant classic of an album”, The Guardian said. “Harding is nothing less than amazing – a nuanced musician, a startling writer and a presence so intense”. The New York Times hailed Party as “cryptic, utterly arresting… her exposed voice is riveting, changing character from song to song”. Rolling Stone waxed in a near perfect four-and-a-half star review, “Harding inhabits nine jaw-droppingly disparate vocal incarnations, delivering crystalline slivers of enigmatic, fragmentary poeticism.”
First single “Horizon” is a lover’s call to arms, powerful for its brutal simplicity and rawness of feeling, love and loathing colliding to devastating effect. “Imagining My Man” commands an air of delicacy as Aldous explores the curiosity of a lover’s idiosyncrasies; steering listeners into a state of intense intimacy laced with hyperactive shots, dirgey saxophone and Harding’s aching voice. NPR praised her steely elegance: “Harding’s haunting folk music moves delicately, but never stops baring its teeth.”
“Blend” sensitively ushers the mood of Harding’s flourishment throughout Party. Its opening lines a nod to the mood of Harding’s last record; sameness is quickly quashed with an electronic drumbeat and the announcement of Aldous Harding as an artist of stirring ambition and trajectory. The hypnotic video, drawn from a scene in the Vietnam War epic Apocalypse Now in which a trio of Playboy Playmates dance for the troops, is cast in a new light – “with the blank white background and the sparse beauty of Harding’s songs, the spectacle becomes even more eerie and unearthly”, lauded Stereogum.
The album’s eponymous single “Party” harks to Aldous’ earlier work; delicately pulling at the threads of a seemingly late-night love affair. Again, it’s not long until the rug is pulled out, with a searing chorus – Harding’s electrifying vocal accompanied by a choir of women and waves of percussive bass clarinet – piercing the balloon of expectations around Harding’s new record with effortless vigour.
Created in Parish’s hometown of Bristol, Party saw Harding depart her New Zealand base in the antipodes for an intensive two-week immersion in the studio. Articulating her ambitions for Party to Parish was a galvanizing process for Harding, met with stunning results. The pair developed a near non-verbal shorthand, audibly evident in a raft of musical contributions from Parish. Alongside such special guests as Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas (having worked with Parish and toured with Aldous, it only took asking once), there is an exhilarating sense of risk throughout the record as Harding’s muscular wingspan extends. Teased out with inflections of experimental instrumentation and arrangements; Party is always anchored by Aldous’ intimidating command of her own songs.
Selling out shows around Europe and the US, Aldous is winning over fans and critics alike with her magnetic presence, stinging humour and uncompromisingly powerful live performance. The New York Times aptly noted that her US showcase performances “often started with curious audiences and ended with rapt ones”. The Guardian noted her as “a folk artist whose performances strike that rare balance between fragility and full-blown possession.” While an NPR Tiny Desk Concert demonstrates the intimate power of Aldous’ use of “spaces, the pauses, and her unique delivery”, an arresting studio performance on Later… with Jools Holland won over thousands of new fans with just one heart-stopping rendition of Horizon.
Renowned for the captivating state of possession she occupies in live performance, Aldous Harding has won crowds the world over playing alongside Deerhunter, Frankie Cosmos and Perfume Genius, as well as to enthralled and amorous crowds the world over – including coveted festival slots such as Green Man, Latitude, Iceland Airwaves, Great Escape, End of the Road, Pickathon, Meredith, Golden Plains, Festival Les Indisciplinées, Rolling Stone Weekender, Visions Festival, and more.
“Spellbinding songs.” (The Guardian; ****)
“Party recalls Perhacs and Bunyan, Nico and Joni, but these are thoroughly modern songs – and very much Harding’s own.” Uncut 8/10
“Truly captivating.” DIY ****
“A talent at the very start of her creative life.” Loud And Quiet 8/10