Hannah Harding, aka Aldous Harding, has effortlessly and successfully overcome the pressure of releasing a second album. Produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey’s collaborator) and aided by Mike Hadreas (aka Perfume Genius), ‘Party’ finds Harding in her darkest and grandest work to date. Her new label, the totally suitable 4AD, described the New Zealander as a shape-shifter “through a variety of roles: chanteuse, folk singer and balladeer”, and they couldn’t be more correct. Harding has been compared to Kate Bush andAgnes Obel to name a few, but in ‘Party’ she proves that she’s like none else, one of the most interesting and intriguing acts out there.
The opening track ‘Blend’ relies upon Harding’s warm vocals and a delicate guitar plucking that slowly builds up with subtle electronic layering. It is the example of won inside the album; while the singer keeps her motto of minimalism in her music (“I take things away rather than add thing”, she said during an interview), Parish production enriches the soundscapes without losing Harding’s essence.
“Somewhere I have the watercolor you did,
I saw you walking on the sand
and I learned”
The piano-driven ‘Imagining My Man’ sees Aldous in the shape of a chanteuse. Aided by Perfume Genius in the chorus, the main focus of this painful yet beautiful cut is, as usual, Harding’s striking voice. ‘Imagining…’ will win you over since the first childlike ‘Hey’. It is indeed a really simple adornment, but it sounds as glorious as you could expect.Title track – my personal favorite track – is a direct shot to the heart. The mesmerizing cut just needs Harding’s voice, a rather low-key arrangement and a painfully euphoric chorus to captivate the listener. It is a misleading title for the track if you are expecting a feel-good and upbeat cut, but this is Aldous at her best.
The title-track – my personal favorite one – is a direct shot to the heart. The mesmerizing cut just needs Harding’s voice, a rather low-key arrangement and a painfully euphoric chorus to captivate the listener. It is a misleading title for the track if you are expecting a feel-good and upbeat cut, but this is Aldous at her best.
“I was as happy as I will ever be
Believe in me, I will never break from you
If there is a party, will you wait for me?”
The gloomy and haunting ‘Horizon’ was the first cut off ‘Party’. It was a clear statement of Harding’s ambitions and a bold and risky installment that turned up to be a successful one. This atmospheric cut is still one of the highlights of her sophomore album, taking ornamentation to its minimum. ‘What If Birds Aren’t Singing, They’re Screaming’ reminds of a fascinating version of Agnes Obel. The lyrics throughout the album are intriguing, quite hard to decipher, being ‘What If…’ the clearest example. But Harding does not like to discuss the meaning of her lyrics, sometimes she does not even recall where the inspiration came from. Personally, this veil of mystery and ambiguity is just another appeal for her music.
“What if my moon gets caught up in my waiting
trapped under a sky lift
blacker than the eyes of my visitors”
The abstract closing ‘Swell Does The Skull’ is probably her closest moment to her debut. In this confessional track she mournfully sings “I don’t want to be a sinner” over a distant guitar that can even go unnoticed sometimes. Then Mike Hadreas -Perfume Genius- steps in, “Ring hard the bell” he starts singing, and these two musical titans complement each other voices making this outro a heart-wrenching piece.
“Swell does my skull
I’ll never be without him”
Hardous in not easy to listen, neither she is made for everyone’s taste. She is definitely not ordinary, quite different to most of the work out there. ‘Party’ takes to higher levels the “less is more” motto, almost to perfection. It is a beautifully written and produced superb album that requires all your attention, and surely ‘Party’ deserves it.
4AD | 2017
Tracklist & Stream