“Sadly I feel nothing,” sings Aldous Harding, on ‘Elation.’ Party, on the whole, however, leaves you feeling anything other than nothing. It has moments open, stark, naked, with just voice and guitar, pure and perfect; it has others loud, anxious, urgent, and forceful.
Thankfully, the album’s title is a red herring – it’s not about a transformation of her sound into pure pop silliness. Instead, Party is full of contrast. Produced by John Parish (PJ Harvey, Sparklehorse), it has been dropped by indie superpower 4AD, and on Flying Nun in NZ. It’s full of ethereal moments, all twists and turns, interesting vocal effects and hard-to-pick instruments, and it alternates pace and mood well.
Harding’s voice weaves different textures into a series of stories. Her vocals weave between those pure and choral, to a high-pitched head voice, shrill catch calls, or floaty, sweet moments. If it’s a party, it’s because the album is a party of voices, made up of the different characters that Aldous Harding brings into the room.
Yes, some people won’t like her singing; whether it’s your thing or not, it’s definitely expressive. The record matches her voice(s) with often subtle instrumentation – sometimes just guitar or piano, with sparse drums and rumbling bass.
‘Blend’ opens the album with her singing over jarring drum clacks blended with a jazzy beat underneath. It’s delicious. ‘Imagining My Man’ is more the Harding of old – but again there are moments of raw vocal power, and a jarring “hey!” that jumps out. ‘Living The Classics’ is urgent, fast-paced and intense, with a floaty, syrupy voice an ointment to the anxious lyricism. It leads into the slow but still urgent ‘Party,’ the sad, melancholic refrain matched with a beautifully restrained clarinet line.
‘I’m So Sorry’ is just guitar and low-register voice, intensely present, the guitar lilting and floating as it weaves carefully around her singing – but there are surprising moments, voices catching you off guard when you least expect. ‘Horizon’ starts with simple piano and voice, another new voice, powerful and alternatingly grating. It’s delightfully odd. As is ‘What If Birds”: “What if birds are not singing, they’re screaming.”
The album seems to weave together these characters, these voices, these moments and stories, into a singularity that doesn’t make sense before repeated listens.
Harding’s live shows have been talked about by many, many people, and always (yes, always), take me somewhere transcendent. In the first show I saw of hers, I realised I was watching someone truly extraordinary. Her stage presence, stories, the lilting voice and songs. She sang ‘Sixteen Tons’ while ruffling the guitarist’s hair affectionately – it was captivating and again, perfectly odd.
I couldn’t stop watching.
And Party? Can’t stop listening.
“The World Is Looking” sings Harding. If they’re not, they will be. Quick, get in with the scene.