ALDOUS HARDING Party gets 8/10

Aldous Harding
Party
4AD

8/10

Aldous Harding’s second album Party is a haunting capsule of modern, dark folk music, with a voice that stalks you, moves you and gets under your skin. Harding’s voice is more of an instrument than any of the other instruments on the album. It hovers, shakes, screeches, rumbles and shrills like that of a pagan witch.

The album was produced by John Parish, who has famously worked with PJ Harvey, and it’s become evident that Parish has a real knack of getting the most out of an artist, as Harding’s Party, like PJ Harvey’s works, is perfectly measured and poised. Harding is of course a completely different kettle of fish to Harvey, though both are complex women with a love of literature and an investigative nature when it comes to the human psyche.

Party is sparse, with minimalist music that uses brush drums, plucked guitar chords, soft piano work and a dash of horns to create a exquisite platform for Harding’s lyrics and voice. Harmonies are transfixing. Good catholic school kids will be reminded of mornings spent in church engulfed by the transformative powers of emotional hymns sung by a small choir of devotees.

Harding’s voice in general is reminiscent of a time and place that doesn’t exist anymore. It is divine, fearful and otherworldly, and as such feels celestial. Throughout the album, there are references to religion; being holy, the devil, god, good vs evil, sin, the Virgin Mary, slaughter and being reborn, which all work to reaffirm this. The angelic nature of Harding’s voice nicely contrasts against the savage, gothic and non-conformist lyrics centred around religion, love, addiction and everything in between. This juxtaposition gives the album a modern, unique edge and makes it a hugely intriguing listen that gives and gives.

As a whole the album feels like a call for connection and inclusion from someone who is physically a part of everything, yet feels apart. This is most obvious in title track, Party, where Harding pleads “If there is a party, please wait for me”. This feeling of isolation is echoed in the production of the album, which often has nothing but Harding’s yearning voice and simple plucked chords filling the tracks, creating a feeling of eerie expansiveness.

Harding’s dark side comes out in force in songs like Horizon and I’m So Sorry. Horizon is a chilling account of not living up to expectations and the personal sores love uncovers. As she expels volatilely “I’ve gotta scratch it down, I never could amount” and the poetic “Here is your princess, and here is your horizon”, which sounds like someone saying they are not in the other person’s future. On Horizon she is reminiscent of an idiosyncratic, contemporary Kate Bush. It’s an honest and relatable song and it’s here, when Harding is full of eccentric theatrics and sincere passion, where she is most compelling.

Another stand out on the album is Imaging My Man, and for Harding it is relatively bright song. It has a jangly chorus complete with indie-esque yelps. In Imaging My Man she also tackles the difficulties in relationships and the way they can leave a person bare. In the song she confesses “All my life I have had to fight to stay” alluding to her constant morphing and her innate need to be on her own. But the song is evidently redeeming of love, as the chorus repeats “You were right, love takes time”.

Whilst the album is beautiful, the vocal gymnastics as well as the reliance on the vocals themselves may prove a little too much for some listeners. Some more daring direction and different textures would not have gone astray. Songs like Perfume Genius duet Swell Does the Skull and The World is Looking For You tend to just roll on by without really pulling you in.

All in all, Party is an ode to a complex headspace, a journey through different realities lit up by effortlessly powerful soundscapes and vocals. It’s modern folk, done superbly.

LARA FOX

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