A bold return from an unmistakable voice...

There’s this quiet intensity to Aldous Harding’s music that is impossible to shake. Each song is imbued with an incredibly rich sense of atmosphere, something 2017’s breakout album ‘Party’ mastered to a fine degree.

‘Designer’ finds the New Zealand born songwriter writing a fresh chapter, and she does so with typically astute artistry. Recorded over a 15 day period in Bristol alongside John Parish, it’s a record both bold in its approach and bald in its palette, with Aldous Harding using this sparsity to suggest so much more than the sum of its parts.

‘Fixture Picture’ eases you in, a pastoral, almost quaint setting for Harding’s dexterous word play. ‘Designer’ opens with those cyclical guitar lines, folding on top of one another in a pattern both delicate and complex, before delving into something more strident and direct.

‘Zoo Eyes’ borders on the languid, while the bright musicality of ‘Treasure’ seems to wring out fresh colour and nuance from Aldous Harding’s vocal. Tense and poised, ‘The Barrel’ uses restraint almost as an instrument itsself, the coy puzzles in the lyric sheet matched by those tender descending woodwind melodies and those frail piano chords.

Taken as a whole ‘Designer’ feels like a process of refinement or distillation. Some elements parallel her earlier releases, but while Aldous Harding is forever willing to introduce new pieces, new ideas, there’s also a sense of increasing focus, increasing intensity.

‘Damn’ is the longest song on the record, and perhaps its most fascinating. The jaunty piano line is deliberately slowed to craft something maudlin, the collision of moods resulting in something striking and unsettling. By contrast final song ‘Pilot’ – the shortest on the record – is unashamedly pretty, each note translated into a point of light, illuminating one of Aldous Harding’s most explicitly introspective lyrics.

‘Designer’ is a striking return, pursuing solitary aesthetic goals in a fashion both unrelenting and admirable. It perhaps lacks a little of the indefinable magic that made 2017’s ‘Party’ such a gripping experience, but in its ability to conjure bold, riveting songwriting it underlines Aldous Harding’s position as a truly remarkable artist.

8/10

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