aldous-harding-aldous-hardingThe plain unadorned picture of Aldous Harding (actual name Hannah) looking back at you on the cover of her début, eponymously titled album, in many ways hints at the subtle pleasures hidden within. It’s an album of stark beauty, an album which could have been made any time in the last fifty, if not a hundred years. It’s an album of wonder, at times unsettling with its dark lyrical themes wrapped up with vivid imagery echoing humanity’s bitter sweet relationship with the nature of life and death (and what’s in-between!).

The fragile warbling vocals of Harding have been likened to 60s era folk singers Vashti Bunyan or Linda Perhacs, but the independent spirit of Tom Waits and Will Oldham runs throughout the album. Crucially her otherworldliness means that Aldous is her own artist and a unique one to be cherished.

The album opener, ‘Stop Your Tears’, showcases Harding’s beautiful graceful vocals that, backed with a mournful choir, build over the lyrical themes of stolen water, pills and lost daughters. ‘Stop Your Tears’ is followed by lead single ‘Hunter’ which, more upbeat and adorned with lush strings and driving fiddle, is characterised by Harding as a “gothic fairy tale”. The fact that Aldous hails from the port town of Lyttelton, in New Zealand, is reflected in the nautical imagery with the song closing with a vision of blood streaming down a river.

‘Two Bitten Hearts’ is a half-whispered sleepy lullaby backed by a haunting musical saw which absorbs gently into your consciousness like a half remembered dream, whilst the more strident ‘Titus Groan’ and the later sister song ‘Titus Alone’ have plucked strings extolling the admirable sentiments of, “Follow me down for wine and tales of bravery, follow me down for mead and tales of victory.”

There are few happy endings in these songs and Harding wrestles every last drop of macabre intent. These are no gentle musings and definitely adult oriented in their range with Beast’s dexterous finger pickings and Harding asking, “Why breed a boy for his meat.” Whereas ‘No Peace’ hints at the constant yearning for satisfaction in life, with its beautiful horns showcasing Harding’s raw, fragile vocals and tells of a soul living in a small house near a beach seeking peace to no avail.

The album throughout veers toward the folk spectrum, but the more classic country ‘Merriweather’ has warm golden strings and sounds blown-in from a distant era of deep-south America and would not sound out of place if it was played on a radio transmitter from a previous century, and with ‘Small Bones of Courage’, Harding sings of, “Feeding words to the wind so that one day they may return”, portraying her as an outsider peering into life’s uncertainties.

This album deserves a wider audience and these imaginative folk tales with their sombre undertones may be an acquired taste at times, but compared to the sanitized ‘product placing’ orientated tunes that are constantly being thrown our way, it is an unadulterated joy. It’s a perfect listen for dark winter evenings to be played late at night whilst embracing a fine glass of wine or mead.

10 out of 11

Release Date 10/11/2014 (Woo Me!)

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Jonathan Roby

Overgrown indie kid with a penchant for americana, psych and weird folk.