[sic] Magazine

Aldous Harding – Designer

In the surreal world of Aldous Harding, songs are conjured via sleight of hand, simple gestures rendered fantastical as fairytales. Familiar chord voicings and sing-song repetition lull the ear, so when something subtle shifts, the rug really whips out from under your feet.

It’s genuinely refreshing to hear an artist committing to a vision free of explanation or apology. I can’t tell you exactly what first single ‘The Barrel’ is about, but it sure feels like the inside of an episode of The Mighty Boosh (partly thanks to the fantastic video). ‘Fixture Picture’ appears to be more literally about new love making everything within a frame slip beautifully into place, but it’s the beatific glow of the music – especially the gush of gratitude in the chorus – that fully communicates the sweet sentiment behind the words. It’s gorgeous – and probably one of the purer pop pleasures of 2019 thus far. Elsewhere, odd images are strewn around like red herrings. What are ‘Zoo Eyes’, and why is Harding (or the character she’s playing) in Dubai? I have no idea. Disorientation abounds.

This sense of disorientation is deepened by the way in which Harding’s voice transforms from song to song, a husky, theatrical lower register one minute, honeyed higher tones the next. Wherever she ventures, her vocal presence is never less than engaging. Co-produced by John Parish, the arrangements can be as stark and minimal as voice plus acoustic guitar or piano (especially affecting on ‘Heaven is Empty’), or blooming with strings and horns. The winning title track even features some Beefheart-esque marimba alongside charmingly wonky piano and congas.

In terms of an overall theme to bring the songs together, the following lines from closer ‘Pilot’ stand out:

I get so anxious I need a tattoo
Something binding that hides me
But when the time comes to design it
It opens up like height under a pilot

Rather than commit to the definitive, Harding keeps things elusive – and all the more enraptured as a result.