Aldous Harding - Party
malneirophrenia: the disturbed state of mind following a nightmare.
Music fans know the stop-dead moment on hearing that song for the first time, a song like Hannah “Aldous” Harding’s ‘Stop Your Tears’, an eerie folk ballad told in the way the wild flowers grow. But there’s something even more extraordinary about her follow up album Party, the New Zealander no longer only giving us what’s in her head, but giving us a work that thinks about itself in a neurotic, but exuberant way.
In the New York Times, producer John (PJ Harvey) Parish describes Harding as “technically an absolutely phenomenal singer.” He’s right, her voice is indescribable because she sings so well. In a way, it’s like her voice isn’t a voice, it really is an instrument. And if we could take out her vocal folds or vocal cords and watch them, we imagine them being played, or she would be singing them, like one plays a piano. Less corporeal instruments: guitar, percussion, (gorgeous) sax, and piano are sparingly used.
David Foster Wallace wrote “Every love story is a ghost story.” Harding’s numerous incantatory voices paint a nighttime of forgotten souls, but are these voices lost in different times, or different voices lost inside her head?
This doubt spreads like a virus. Title-track ‘Party’ describes doubt arising from lost agency (“If there is a party will you wait for me?”), while ‘Imagining My Man’ idealises love, its video like Abbas Kiarostami’s also quietly subversive film ‘Ten’. The voice is low, as beautiful as Hope Sandoval’s, but its lips are the edges of a deep wound. In ‘Living the Classics’ the voice is Elliot Smith’s at its Beatles best. But something’s not quite right, Sandoval and Smith are running from the glitch in the mainframe, out scurrying each other back up the rabbit hole.
Daphne du Maurier’s ‘The Birds’ offers no explanation for the species’ attack, which Harding’s sense of humour perverts in ‘What if Birds Aren’t Singing They’re Screaming’. Now that’s terrifying. This knowingly funny woman wouldn’t need smileys if she tweeted like her feathered friends. The pining ‘Swell Does the Skull’ leaves us with a sting in the tail, perhaps this entire album has been to save the narrator’s sanity (“There is no end to the madness I fear.”)
Aldous Harding’s Party generates a particular type of magic realism that fuses dreams and fantasies, and also the mystical and spiritual. It’s set in a world where people know to accept God as real they must be ready to fight the Devil. The very mundane qualities of what it means to live and what it means to die. A quite beautiful, occasionally terrifying, numinous work.
Party is released on 4AD.