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Aldous Harding
Designer Diva Harris , May 1st, 2019 08:02

The latest album from New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding has one eye fixed on the past and one on the future, finds Diva Harris

Ever since I first heard 'The Barrel', the first song to be released from Aldous Harding's Designer, some two months ago, I haven't stopped thinking about the peaches and ferrets and eggs of its lyrics. In fact, I haven't stopped thinking about any of the rest of it either – the country-but-not guitar; the striking video and its spectacular millinery; the fact that such a good single is reason enough to buy an entire album in blind faith. And as it turns out, such faith would be perfectly placed, for Designer is a strange and beautiful idyll built on poetic surrealism, acoustic twangs, poppy hooks, starry mysticism, indulgent track lengths, wry smiles and production crisp as new bedlinen.

Designer is both self-referential and evolutionary, building on the combined foundations of the fast finger-picked folk of Harding's 2014 self-titled debut and the more experimental, genre-resistant eerieness of 2017's Party. This is exemplified nowhere better than on Designer's title track, where twangy opening bars call to mind not only Harding's own earlier work, but also On Your Own Love Again-era Jessica Pratt, are something of a red herring. It's not long before they snap into a clean, brand new sound, with a vocal style more in keeping with folk/pop crossover singers of the 1990s than Party's anguished warbles. There is also a lyrical move away from darkness. Where the songs of Party were populated by shady, unsettling figures (“He had me sit like a baby / I looked just twelve / With his thumb in my mouth” she sang on the title track), the unnamed characters Harding addresses here pose no threat. Her turns of phrase, ever poetic, soften and come into bloom: “Tears water the flowers of need / And you bend my day at the knee…I give up on your beauty”. This isn't an album entirely without allusion to the unsettling – on the filmic 'Damn', for example, Harding sings over sparse and plodding piano “I did at one time attempt / In landing sleeves and a silly ribbon'”, leaving the uneasy ambiguity of what exactly she might have attempted hanging in the air. Yet this aside, these songs are largely delivered from a position of retrospective relief, the present tense filled with braids, brides, celestial bodies, shells, philosophy, and visceral, slippery love.

There are multitudes contained within Designer - entire essays could be written, I'm sure, on the staggering textural range of Harding's voice (Sufjan Stevens-vaporous on 'Treasure', jazz club smoky on 'Weight of the Planets', and mournful, haunted, on 'Pilot'), or the influence of Alejandro Jodorowsky on the album's arresting videos. Then there's how Designer establishes Aldous Harding as an aesthete; a tragicomedian; an absurdist philosopher; a modern day metaphysical poet. And what of her considerations of marriage, sex, autonomy? There's more to chew on here than you'll find in many records released this year. It's with one eye staring into the past and the other firmly fixed on the future that Aldous Harding presents this mysterious, complex and intelligent work – a third essential in as many albums.