cone magazine

Review /\ Aldous Harding – Aldous Harding

Aldous Harding’s self-titled debut may be fashionably minimalist, but within it we discover compositions curiously bittersweet and diverse.

Drawing on country and folk elements, this New Zealand based songwriter has released a 45-minute LP  that showcases a variety of introspective numbers – from the softer, stripped-back ballads to more epic and ethereal compositions. They are all bound together by their stark portrayal of both untouched beauty and hidden pain.

Stop Your Tears, followed by Hunter, express a moodier side of the lamenting folk ballad and affirm Harding’s knack for luring the listener in. Her guitar playing is as soft and delicate as her voice, and both songs are raw and honest. The odd chanting backing vocal here and there does wonders in raising the mood of the song – although these stylings have been somewhat overworked in recent years, and it’s hard to shake the comparisons. Within the Australasian region, fellow neighbor Julia Stone (Australia) puts out a similar sound, along with her brother Angus Stone. What began as a folk-pop outfit turned more grand in delivery, bringing to mind the likes of Mumford & Sons and Boy & Bear. It’s not a particularly displeasing genre (irritating more than anything), but often only a few tracks stand out as being truly original and engaging.

Two Bitten Hearts expresses a darker mood, but this time as a slow burner that places sole importance on the power of each pick of the string. The song grows naturally as it incites imagery of grand landscapes and haunting memories. Harding’s soft voice floats above, accompanied by a fluttering theremin.

This, along with Merriweather, are two tracks that are undeniably moving. Foremost, they are sweet – even in their sadness or lament – and they pull at your heart strings. The latter conjures up influences of early 60s folk, like Joan Baez, with gospel elements worked in.

Adding to our knowledge of the artist, it appears that references to classic literature of fantasy fiction have been worked in. The tracks Titus Groan and Titus Alone are a nod to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy. This all contributes to a stranger, more unpredictable country-folk template, and is far more intriguing than the overplayed memoirs of tribesmen and wild animals that seem to permeate throughout contemporary folk these days.

It’s an album that ultimately pushes the stripped-back ballad, causing introspection within vast landscapes. It’s a familiar sound certainly, but upholds integrity and is enjoyable to listen to. It possesses a refreshing blend of lighthearted country numbers and sorrowful slow burners, leaving listeners open to take their own journey through Harding’s dark memory scape. It’ll be intriguing to see what path she takes from here.

You can listen to Stop Your Tears here – the first track from the album.


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