Aldous Harding – Designer (5 stars)

Aldous Harding – Designer

Fascinating collection full of melody, evocative poetry and exceptional musical arrangements

There's something about Aldous Harding. In an increasingly crowded musical landscape, a world where there has never been more singer-songwriters, she stands out as a unique, singular talent. Then, to define Harding as a singer-songwriter is reductive. Her live shows are a beguiling kind of performance art, in which she grimaces, gestures and glares wildly as if something's gone horribly wrong; her music videos provocative and richly metaphorical in themselves, short films rather than obligations. Better to call Harding an artist, and one who's undeniably hit her stride with her third album.

Designer is a fascinating collection, full of melody, evocative poetry and exceptional musical arrangements. Lead single 'The Barrel' arrives at Designer's halfway point and is the record's ambiguous centrepiece, a song that could be interpreted as a dissection of all the games surrounding love, sexual awakening, mortality or all of the above. As with all of Designer, it's best taken as a whole, the musical language of its component parts singing in harmony.

Like 2017's intense, brooding Party, Designer was produced by John Parish, who oversees some expertly judged embellishments to Harding's material. There are the layers of backing vocals on 'The Barrel', Claire MacTaggart's intermittent violin shrieks in 'Weight of the Planets', Stephen Black's soaring clarinet on 'Zoo Eyes', and the folk shuffle groove of the standout title track. The album's second half is more stripped-back but loses nothing in the process; in particular, 'Damn' – revolving around a piano ostinato – is disarming in its beauty.

Lyrically too, Designer is a treasure trove, full of memorable turns of phrase and paragraphs worth poring over. 'Zoo Eyes' – the closest thing on Designer to a conventional love song – is on one hand direct and specific, but also sees Harding sing 'all fear is the cream that sits above the classroom of your dreams', and 'all love is fleece that leaves a cold lamb laughing in the breeze'. Designer is a truly exceptional album.

Out Fri 26 Apr on 4AD.

Aldous Harding

New Zealand folk singer-songwriter.

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