“What am I doing in Dubai?”, asks Aldous Harding at the start of ‘Zoo Eyes’, the third track on her third album, ‘Designer’. It would be a good question for almost anyone, but seems particularly pertinent for a New Zealand-born avant garde singer-songwriter. We never find out the answer, it being Harding’s practice to sing in riddles (a later section of the same song goes something like “I drove my inner child to a show / We talked all the way home / In the nectar”), but if that is a problem then it is the only one with this perfectly wonderful, constantly inventive, total ear-worm of an album.
I regret that I knew nothing of Aldous Harding before hearing her in a record shop a few weeks ago and buying her album a few minutes later. Since then I can’t remember a day when I haven’t listened to ‘Designer’ at least once and usually multiple times. Like now.
I am struggling a bit to categorise or even describe the songs, because they are so eclectic. The title track, ‘Designer’, has an upbeat rhythm and gorgeous melody, played out on piano, bass, maracas and a pipe-based instrument of some description. There’s an overall feel of Gorkys Zygotic Mynci mixed with Bjork, which would make some sense as Harding is now based in Cardiff and goes out with Welsh alt-music luminary, H. Hawkline.
There are more Welsh suggestions in the video to ‘The Barrel‘, for which Harding dons a costume reminiscent of traditional Cymru dress and dances very weirdly. The lyrics are equally bizarre: “Looks like a date he said / Show the ferret to the egg”, but the melody is pure heaven and the shaker-driven beat is sublime.
As we reach the latter tracks of the album things slow down a bit. Markontour favours of this technique for my annual Festive Fifteen compilation and it works for Harding too. “Sorry I was late / And you didn’t get your weekend”, apologises the singer on ‘Damn’, to a simple bass-hand piano melody. ‘Weight of the Planets’ has a more breezy tune, but what could be darker than feeling pulled down by the mass of celestial bodies? Penultimate song, ‘Heaven is Empty’, hardly needs an explanation and thus only requires an acoustic guitar as accompaniment.
To be honest, writing this blog was just an excuse to listen to ‘Designer’ for a second time today, when I’d promised myself I would start weaning myself off it. Instead I am just going to try and engage others in the addiction.