Release Date: May 19, 2017
Record label: 4AD
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Peering out beneath the peak of a blue baseball cap, Christchurch, New Zealand's Aldous Harding cut a fairly unassuming figure on the sleeve of her 2014 debut. Often tagged – and by the artist herself – as 'gothic folk', the music inside was brittle, spartan and, in places, beautiful. There was darkness, and hints of the fantastic – particularly on the brace of songs named for Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast trilogy – but Harding's voice was an eerie, feather-light thing, with raw, quavering hints of Kate Bush, Melanie Safka or Jessica Pratt's unearthly warble.
This is the kind of Party I'd like to be invited to. Aldous Harding is one of this year's most talked about singer-songwriters and not without good reason on the evidence of this second album. Blessed with one of, if not two of (more of that later) the most distinctive and powerful voices to emerge in recent memory, what renders the album vital and beautiful is the way that those vocals are complimented by instrumentation which calls to mind Parliament of Owls, Lisa Hannigan's beautiful recent work and the intricacy of Flo Morrissey's compositional skill.
A mericana might need a new name, so many sterling exemplars have been rolling in off the South Pacific: Nadia Reid and Julia Jacklin, for two. The latest is Aldous Harding, whose second album of hypnotic folk flowers into something far more opaque and artistically evolved. Producer John Parish's long association with PJ Harvey is a reference point, but Harding is her own woman, an arresting vocalist whose mannered deliveries - from chanteuse to jazzy - and intense themes defy obvious influence.
Considered by Lorde as "the most interesting musician around," receiving a thumbs up from UK's sweetheart Charlotte Church and hometown friends Yumi Zouma, New Zealand's folk-child Aldous Harding has been slowly distancing herself from the demons that brought her into songwriting. Party, produced by PJ Harvey's long-time collaborator John Parish, will be Harding's second full-length release, with which she aims to find brighter days and worldwide reach, now under the watch of 4AD. Born into a family of musicians in Lyttelton, located in the southeastern part of Christchurch, New Zealand, Hannah Claynails Harding didn't envision pursuing a career in music.
With a title like 'Party,' you might expect New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding's new album to be a much sunnier affair than her blackened debut, which focused on her then more fractured state of mind. Prepare to be surprised. To an extent. Though Aldous herself has stated that 'Party' isn't an ironic title, it's still a record that's at ease when stalking through the shadows.
J udging by the spellbinding songs on Aldous Harding's second album, the party of the title isn't a right old knees-up with jelly and ice cream - more likely she's party to a crime of passion. These songs are full of worried wonderings and torrid, erotic declarations - "My mouth is wet / Don't you forget it" - sung in an extraordinarily dextrous and perhaps divisive voice that ranges from Josephine Foster's warble to Nico's sonorous tenor. Amid the slightly humdrum instrumentation of guitar and piano, other voices intrude: a startled but delighted "Hey!" on the exquisite Imagining My Man (featuring Perfume Genius in a subtle duet), and, on the otherwise straightforward I'm So Sorry, little Twombly-style smudges of saxophone and backing vocals.
The follow-up to the self-described "gothic folk" singer/songwriter's 2015 eponymous debut, Party is downcast New Zealander Aldous Harding's first outing for 4AD. It's a fitting partnership, as her minimalist, chamber pop arrangements, dark confessional lyrics, and wee-hours-of-the-morning vibe invoke some of the famed British independent label's most notable exports (Kristin Hersh, Kendra Smith, Lisa Germano, Emma Pollock, etc.). 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.