By Ben Helme
Harding created my favourite album of all time, 2019’s ‘Designer’, so I was excited for her much awaited follow up. It doesn’t disappoint. As in her previous albums, she weaves sounds from alternative, folk, jazz, and soft-rock music into a wonderfully rewarding, if often puzzling, masterwork.
Her stylistic range is matched by her vocal versatility. In ‘Ennui’ she adopts a low, solidly soothing tone, while in the upbeat ‘Lawn’, her delivery takes a breathy, soft colour. In multiple songs, she switches between her different voices during a single phrase. Where conventional wisdom would encourage her to settle on ‘her sound’, she manipulates her voice to the point that the various songs could be the work of entirely different singers. Harding’s voice is an instrument, and she’s unafraid to wield it at extremes, even if that means briefly sounding like a trumpet.
This spirit of invention permeates the lyrics. She famously declines to explain her unusual poetry, and when discussing ‘Warm Chris’, she says she was focused on the phonics of the words, rather than their interpretations. Nonetheless, she produces evocative phrases. I prefer to listen to this music casually, without trying to extract interpretation from the language, but it’s hard to ignore the emotional charge of lines such as “breathing time is a lonely state of mind” or “the weather opened up like a birthday card”. The instrumental accompaniments in ‘Warm Chris’ may be sparse, but this is music to get lost in.
Her past performances have sometimes been disparaged as odd, due to her intense facial expressions, opaque lyrics, and surprising inflections. To my mind, this is criticising what makes her great – genuine originality. Aldous Harding has many sounds, but none are being attempted by anyone else. I think they’re gorgeous, but even if you don’t, it’s hard to deny that this is boundary-pushing, inventive work. If you find yourself bored of the music you keep finding, this refreshing album might be perfect for you.
Only time will tell whether ‘Warm Chris’ ages as well as her previous work, but ‘Lawn’, ‘She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain’ and ‘Staring at the Henry Moore’ are instant classics, joining the ranks of her past greats, such as ‘Hunter’, ‘Zoo Eyes’, and ‘Treasure’.
In short, this is another extraordinary showing from one of the century’s most exciting, underappreciated creators.
Recommended for fans of: Laura Marling, The Velvet Underground, Angel Olsen, Moses Sumney, Cate le Bon, Big Thief, Joanna Newsom, Bedouine, Nick Drake, Ichiko Aoba, Joan Armatrading, David Bowie
Hi, I’m Ben. I’m from Sandwich in Kent, and I’m in my second year, studying PPE. Aside from writing, I love hiking, reading and finding hidden places in London. I also love TV and film – if you have any suggestions for something I should watch, especially anything prettily shot or spooky, I’d love to hear. If you ever feel like discussing something I’ve written, please message me – my email’s firstname.lastname@example.org, or my Instagram’s benh3lme!