Folk music comes in many styles and levels of intensity from brisk strumming and foot stomping to plaintiff torch song but it’s alway at its best when stripped back to its essence – words and accompanying raw instrumentation. On her debut album Lyttleton’s Aldous Harding (Hannah Harding) has a direct line to the heart and soul of folk with her sparse and deeply affecting collection of songs.
Co-produced by singer/songwriter Marlon Williams (with engineer Ben Edwards), this is an album that carries the greatest weight when played late at night when ones daily distractions have momentarily gone and there is time for full immersion in the music on offer.
The first striking characteristic is Harding’s voice, perhaps one that might deter some listeners, but for those with any affection for Vashti Bunyan, Karen Dalton or more recently Beth Gibbons (Portishead) there is much to revel in here. Harding’s singing style is affected, ornate and considered with each word given equal emphasis. It is both mystical and otherworldly while sounding disciplined and determined. It can be breathy and intimate as it is on ‘Two Bitten Hearts’ or bright and dancing on the sprightly ‘Beast’.
Thematically Harding pulls from organic matter. Her songs reference tears, groans, hearts and bones giving the songs a primitive and sometimes primal feel amid the love and heartache. The most powerful moment comes with ‘No Peace’ which presents Harding laid emotionally bare, her voice on the brittle edge of fragility as she tells of a soul living in a small house near a beach, with peace unattainable. While much of the album is intense and dramatic there are moments of beauty. ‘Merriweather’ in particular features Williams on vocal harmonies with sweet swelling strings giving it a bucolic warmth.
This is a special album in the sense that its graceful and subtle qualities form a powerfully emotive listening experience. It uses familiar musical forms to create something quite spooky and entrancing and it is those qualities that will repeatedly draw listeners back for more.
this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz