Aldous Harding – Aldous Harding (Spunk Records)



This debut album by a young woman from Christchurch in New Zealand (or possibly nearby Lyttleton, depending on your reading of the bio) came out towards the end of last year and is one of the releases of 2014 without any doubt in my mind. In fact, I’d go so far as to say this album will be up there for best of the decade come 2019.

http://www.theundergroundofhappiness.blogspot.ie/2014/12/best-of-2014-part-1-folkrootscountry.html

And talk about setting the bar high from the word go. The opening song ‘Stop your tears’ is one of those spellbinding musical moments, so memorable you might remember where you were and what you were doing when you first heard it. It has a slightly gothic, debauched feel to it - ”I keep the pills inside an urn”, “Baudelaire in the afternoon” – in among the haunting, ghostly atmosphere of some of the most memorable backing vocals ever committed to tape.

‘Hunter’ follows and lifts the tone, a hearty strummed singalong with rousing fiddle, sounding a bit like some of the recent work of Alasdair Roberts.

Then the pace slows again for the spare, heartstopping ‘Two bitten hearts’, a languid acoustic guitar strum. Harding’s voice takes on new character, threatening to fly away into a falsetto at one point, then later assuming the wavering quality of the saw which drifts in and out of the arrangement. The first ever saw-vocal duet in history, I’m thinking, and a stunning triumph of sustained tone.

The flute arrangement of ‘No peace’ is another genius, mourning touch. Again the pace is slow, dirgelike, the guitar almost fumbling, Harding singing like a broken woman, sighing and shuffling off mike, suggesting years and experience well beyond her actual 20-something.

Later she assembles a straightforwardly beautiful ballad arrangement consisting of banks of fiddles on ‘Merriweather’.

In the end, what you surely take away from this album is her voice. What an intriguing instrument it is. Harding uses deliberate enunciation, crisp consonants, as if she’s tasting the words. There’s nothing mumbled about her delivery, it's more formal, you might even say it's declarative except that she still manages to connote heartbreak and loss magnificently. There's certainly a kind of cold-eyed clarity to it which is free of sentimentality. It’s a powerful restatement of the values of the English 1960s folk revival and the fact that it’s a debut album is just mind boggling.

Magnificent is the only word for it.







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Go-Betweens - 1978-1990 (Beggars Banquet)

Hilma Nikolaisen – Puzzler (Fysisk Format)

Sean O’Hagan – The Cricket Club, Cork, July 2 2017