After attracting universal glowing acclaim with her second album ‘Party’, New Zealand alt-folk singer-songwriter Aldous Harding returns to attempt to leap over the high bar she’s set for herself. From meandering jazz to dark chamber pop, her previous was a record that defied comparison.
Teaming up once again with PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish on production, ‘Designer’ seems to gracefully pick up where ‘Party’ left off, yet with a little more control as she continues down her esoteric path. ‘Fixture Picture’ is a lush but subtle cinematic opener as she whispers out a postcard that feels like it was written while waking from a dream: “How’s the wine where you live? Bet it’s expensive / One day we’ll share a glass together and ride the dunes.”
The album’s charm lays in its intimacy and idiosyncrasies. The title track is a hushed ditty of lounge jazz with a slight tropical bounce, as she urges you “not to lose your young eyes” and “laugh at good work with your ugly son”. We don’t know what she’s on about, but we’re having a lovely time. “Why? What am I doing in Dubai?” she asks on the innocent lullaby of ‘Zoo Eyes’, capturing the internal monologue that drives the record. “In the prime of my life, Do you love me?”
As she sings of the changing of the seasons, ocean imagery, Albert Camus, heaven-sent birds and gravity’s pull, the album is an open-hearted deep dive into Harding’s colourfully illustrated imagination.
The record is best represented by ‘The Barrel’ and ‘Weight Of The Planets’; both driven by a gentle groove but anchored by a warm, old-school soul – exposed further by the devastating acoustic sadness of ‘Heaven Is Empty’ or the minimalist ‘Pilot’. Elegant and elemental, quietly confident and masterfully understated, ‘Designer’ feels like a breath of fresh air in a time dense with noise and algorithmic hiss. Shut out all the bullshittery and horror that surrounds you, put your headphones on and pore over the minutiae of this marvellous, teeny-tiny world.