In the same way she skirts the certainty of genre clarification, Aldous Harding’s poetic expression remains highly interpretable as she keeps her cards close to her chest.
On her third album, ‘Designer’, Aldous Harding continues along the songwriting path set with her 2017 offering ‘Party’. Produced, as with ‘Party’, by John Parish - a previous collaborator with the likes of PJ Harvey and Tracey Chapman - ‘Designer’ follows a similar musical and thematic route to Harding’s previous release.
‘Designer’ follows Marlon Williams’ break-up album ‘Make Way For Love’ released last year all about his prior relationship with Harding. Williams’ explicit discussion of the resulting anguish and heartbreak led to a personal and deeply honest release. If ‘Designer’ serves to respond in some way, Harding does well to blur direct references.
In the album’s first single, ‘The Barrel’, Harding explores a collapsing relationship. Her voice with its distinct articulation lulls as she sings, “the wave of love is a transient hurt.” Profound observations like this are scattered amidst specific memories or visualisations and abstract reflections. For instance, she admits to her lack of excitement at her ex-lover’s use of ostentatiousness to charm, with the words, “I know you have the dove, I’m not getting wet.”
Harding continues with this style on her second single ‘Fixture Picture’. Enlightening insight - “you can’t be pure and in love” - is paired with symbolic visual - “one day we’ll share a glass together and ride the dunes.” The effect is a collage of imagery, patched together in a way that obscures the comfort of clear-cut interpretation.
Stylistically, the album achieves instrumental and lyrical cohesion, but Harding’s ‘collage’ exists within the entirety of the album. Her scenes skip through locations, inward reflections and relationships while alluding to themes of heartbreak, spirituality (or lack thereof - see ‘Heaven is Empty’), the pressures of intimacy, and inadequacy among others.
The musical style of ‘Designer’ maintains a centre around nylon-stringed guitars and gentle keys with full band arrangements, unlike on ‘Party’, being a prominent feature. The result of such instrumentation, sparse on cuts like ‘Heaven is Empty’ and ‘Pilot’, more full on tracks like ‘Designer’ or ‘Zoo Eyes’, is a spotlight being trained on Harding’s lyrics which sit above the restrained musical backing.
Aldous Harding’s poetic concealment, while at times infuriatingly indistinct, allows the listener to revel in her intense, sometimes beautiful, sometimes haunting imagery. While her poetic intent may not be immediately apparent, the enablement of her language is to allow the listener to derive their own meaning. So, while audiences and critics' opinions may be polarised by her unique interpretation of the folk genre, her poetry stands powerful and isolating, encouraging listeners to independently take what they will and interpret as they want.
“Four out of five stars”