Bewitched by Kiwi goth Aldous Harding

Aldous Harding.
Aldous Harding.PHOTO: 4AD

Lorde is probably the most high- profile female New Zealand singer these days, but aside from the obviously pop Bic Runga, Kimbra and Ladyhawke, you would be hard-pressed to name a few more.

That could change with a growing coterie of indie singers who inhabit not the pop end of the game, but gallivant across the intriguing folk-rock spectrum in pursuit of their odd muse.

Aldous Harding - born Hannah, but who chose the moniker "Aldous" as it sounds like a "manly Alice" - follows in the footsteps of Hollie Fullbrook of Tiny Ruins and Nadia Reid to become the next Kiwi to raise eyebrows.

On the evidence of Party, her second album and the first to be released on the estimable British indie label 4AD, you understand why. Already causing a buzz in Europe where her live performances are the talk of the town, the 20something oozes charisma in the quietest of ways.

Producer John Parish, who knows a thing or two about working with strong female artists such as PJ Harvey and Jenny Hval, draws out the gothic eeriness of her voice.

On first spin, she does sound like a Sybil of multiple personalities, a hologrammatic magic swirl of ghosts past and present, but a slow immersion in the record proves she is a singular talent biding her time.



    Aldous Harding


    4/5 stars

The single Horizon is a blues ultimatum to a paramour to choose between their own life and life with her. Vocally, it manifests her masterly control and shape-shifting sensibility. "Here is your princess," she slips into early Joanna Newsom mode, a kind of babyish wheeze, then switches to a lower guttural tenor: "And here is your horizon."

The switchblade effect is unsettling. It is manic but controlled, which makes it even more hair- raising.

Parish wisely opts for sparse piano instrumentation to give her inner goth room to play. In Imagining My Man, she duets with Mike Hadreas of Perfume Genius, preferring a low, Nico-esque delivery as if the gender roles are switched.

A sudden yelp of "Hey!" interjects the chorus: "All my life, I've had to fight to stay/You were right, love takes time." Hadreas warbles softly in the background, as a horn toots forlornly.

The two come together again in the spellbinding dirge Swell Does The Skull, about a post-war reunion of two star-crossed lovers. He sings about "honey on the bread now", and she matches his clarity with a vision: "We belong by the fireside."

Indeed, the mood is not all cloak and dagger. When she lightens up, she remains bewitching.

In the strummy lovely Living The Classics, she extols the adrenaline rush of success. The pleasures, however, are down to earth. "Take mum to Paris/And jump on the big beds," she coos, double-tracked over delicate finger-picking, offering possibly the most vivid and shocking revelation of the record.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Bewitched by a Kiwi goth'. Print Edition | Subscribe