Aldous Harding – Designer

Enigmatic New Zealander Aldous Harding turns in a stylish follow-up to 2017's Party with new album Designer

Album Review by Joe Goggins | 24 Apr 2019
  • Aldous Harding – Designer
Album title: Designer
Artist: Aldous Harding
Label: 4AD
Release date: 26 Apr

One of the common themes running through much of the press surrounding Aldous Harding’s terrific 2017 record, Party, was that the New Zealander was a little bit of an enigma. Introverted in interviews and inscrutable on record, she produced something that was at once both uncannily familiar – the spirit of Nico and Joanna Newsom hung heavy over the record – and beguiling in its inscrutability, with the lyrics frequently opaque and the melodies peculiarly singular. That reputation worked to her advantage, with fans and critics alike fascinated by her, which might explain why details on this follow-up are in short supply. It was recorded between Bristol (where she cut Party) and Cardiff, with John Parish again handling production duties.

Designer feels like a subtly different beast to Party, though; there’s more restraint in the instrumentation, with soft percussion and quiet guitars frequently favoured, but the compositions remain eccentric. Lead single The Barrel slowly reveals itself as being ever so slightly off-kilter, with its clever vocal layers and faint swells of brass, while stylistic lines are blurred tastefully on Weight of the Planets, which sees a wandering, jazzy bassline sit incongruously neatly next to a simmering synth line. At the centre of it all remains Harding’s tremendously versatile voice, which she smartly restrains at some points – such as on the reserved Treasure – and lets off the leash at others: she goes up and down the scales on Damn, whilst her vocals constantly shapeshift on the title track to keep up with the instrumental.

On Party and indeed during some of Harding’s live performances, there’s cleverly deployed theatrical flourishes in places and, if anything, she’s even more sparing with them on Designer – which only serves to heighten their power when they do arrive. There is, for instance, something about the sparseness of the closing one-two, Heaven is Empty and Pilot, that serves to underline everything that’s gone before with a sense of discreet drama. Designer is a record entirely in the image of its creator – Harding remains as lyrically oblique as ever, and the idiosyncrasies in her voice remain her calling card – and yet one that strongly recalls Julia Holter’s Have You in My Wilderness or Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness in how calmly it oozes confidence.

Listen to: Designer, Damn, Weight of the Planets