2018 Stereophile Magazine Record to Die For!
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.
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.
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 humor, 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.
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's intimidating command of her own songs.
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. "Aldous Harding repeats the line as a mantra, as a truth, as a reality. It's as if the gift of life is right here, with all its beauty and its limitations," said NPR.
"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. The track is one of two that Mike Hadreas lends his inimitably sultry vocals to, the other being the intimate Party closer "Swell Does The Skull".
"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 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 vigor.
Built on a foundation that's pure Nico-esque chanteuse baritone, Harding's voice manages to come off as both distinct and mercurial, reserved and whispery, à la Vashti Bunyan one minute and full-throated PJ Harvey the next. The simplicity of the arrangements casts its own spell, with Harding switching pretty evenly between fingerpicked guitar and melancholy-wet piano throughout the just-under-40-minute set... Party finds the sweet spot between raw and refined, and in doing so, feels very real.
The albums' title is perhaps misleading. There are no brightly colored balloons or crepe-paper streamers here. Aldous Harding is demented. Her voice is a tiny bird on fire, then a playful poltergeist - sometimes terrifying, always enchanting... Producer John Parish's expert touch is all over the place. The sound is clear, bold, and often intoxicating. Harding sings exquisitely, plays gentle guitar, and knows exactly when to release her many monsters.
- Vinyl LP
- Made in North America
- Imagining My Man
- Living The Classics
- I'm So Sorry
- What If Birds Aren't Singing They're Screaming
- The World Is Looking For You
- Swell Does The Skull