Aldous Harding: Haunting Freak-Folk From New Zealand
“I will never marry my love/I will die waiting for the bells/Death, come to me underwater/I have nothing left to fear from hell,” New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding intones in the opening lines of “Stop Your Tears,” the first track on her self-titled debut, initially issued in June 2015, but now getting a much wider release courtesy of the revered Kiwi label Flying Nun.
The music is as stark as those lyrics — relying primarily on the artist’s crystalline voice and gentle acoustic finger-picking or tentatively strummed chords — but things aren’t as dour as they seem on first blush. Harding is singing about grief, death, and loves lost or unrequited to find catharsis, not to wallow in the misery, and she is the master of decorating her sparsely framed songs with touches that pierce the gloom like stray beams of sunlight: a lovely violin, a subtly employed choir, a singing saw (at least that’s what I think it is), or a quickly suppressed hint of a giggle at the end of nursey-rhyme chorus. The freak-folk touchstones are numerous — from the Incredible String Band and Vashti Bunyan to more recent, post-Jeff Buckley revivalists—but she’s got some barely concealed PJ Harvey rage in her, too. Songs such as “Titus Alone,” “Beast,” and “Two Bitten Hearts” ultimately feel timeless, and the voice is uniquely her own, even if the themes — “My songs follow the kind of slow mistrust of the world and your mind,” she’s said — are all too familiar for many of us during that occasional dark night of the soul.
Aldous Harding, Aldous Harding (Flying Nun)
Rating on the 4-star scale: 3.5 stars.