If Aldous Harding’s debut album was her introduction – a musical germination – then Party is her blossoming. It’s a glorious shift from sombre introspection to expansive exultation, an artist having the tools and confidence to fully realise her thoughts and ideas without losing an ounce of the essence that defines her creativity.
The first twenty seconds of opening track ‘Blend’ sounds like a natural follow-on from her self-titled debut before a drum machine and bass guitar enter the fray, giving the pastoral folk song a decidedly machine-like quality, immediately bringing to mind Portishead. Geographically that connection makes sense as the album was recorded in Bristol (close to the town of Portishead) by John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse). His influence in augmenting Harding’s sparse arrangements with all manner of instruments and a warm and close production quality is immense.
Second single ‘Imagining My Man’ is as infectious as it is otherworldly, pulsing and swaying on horns, piano and the jolting ‘hey’ that appears, as if to wake the listener out of their sonically-indued hypnotic state. The combination of endlessly fascinating juxtapositions gives the album life and playful inventiveness while never overshadowing the darker undercurrents in many of the songs.
Across the whole album Harding’s voice is a revelation. It still possesses that spooky quality, the witchy twisting of words and medieval folkiness. It’s often balanced by an absolute purity of sound where you can hear her breathing and that strong/fragile waver that ripples through her singing. The title track is a perfect example as she adds a choir of herself to the chorus, singing the heartfelt “If there’s a party will you wait for me”. On ‘I’m So Sorry’ she assumes a low, and smoky jazz noir tone as she explores the self-defeating dichotomies of human emotions through changing experiences.
‘Horizon’ has been a show-stopper over the last year, her strongest performance piece and her most strident and widescreen vocal. “I broke my neck dancing to the edge of the world” sings Harding over sparse piano and tense strings. It’s a tour de force and the finest song she’s committed to a recording. Lyrically her songs have become more direct yet also more poetically astute and focused. “What if birds aren’t singing, they’re screaming” she sings on ‘What If Birds’ and on the devastating closer ‘Swell Does The Skull’ (featuring guest vocals from Perfume Genius’ Mike Hadreas) the simple phrase “I’ll never be without him” is amplified in meaning via her devotional delivery.
An Aldous Harding party is one full of fertile imagination, bruised romance and an internal dialogue of self-doubt and resolute determination. It might not always be a fun party but it’s real, it’s honest and it’s a magnificently immersive and emotive listening experience.