Aldous Harding was born in Auckland, New Zealand, as Hannah Harding, the daughter of a blues singer father and a folk singer mother. Designer is Harding’s third album and, like her second album Party, it’s on the celebrated 4AD label and produced by John Parish. Parish has also worked with PJ Harvey, most visibly on 1996’s collaborative album Dance Hall at Louise Point.
Harding’s accompanied by classy, restrained arrangements – acoustic guitar picking, piano, and gentle rhythm sections. Her music’s simple; Harding operates in a different genre, and is decidedly more niche, than her compatriot Lorde, but both artists are reliant on their imagery-laden lyrics and their distinctive vocal delivery for their appeal.
Harding’s imagery is particularly cryptic, with references to the “weight of the planets” and “zoo eyes”. I can live not understanding what these songs are about, other fans are less patient. Harding has said that “If people arrive at a place about it, I’m not going to tell them that’s not the right place, especially when I’m not gonna take them anywhere else.”1
Harding’s mannered vocals are both commanding and idiosyncratic – the same applies to her physical presence in her live performances and music videos – along with the imagery, they’re the key to the enjoyment of Designer.
The beautifully restrained arrangements allow Harding’s strengths as a cryptic lyricist and unique vocalist to shine. Ideally there’d be more happening musically – in particular the very similar vocal hooks of ‘Fixture Picture’ and ‘Zoo Eyes’ represent unnecessary repetition on a concise record.
Harding is a mesmerising whirling dervish at the centre of the calm of Designer, enough to make an enjoyable record.