It’s a curious and lovely thing that Aldous Harding has become, in her own eccentric manner, something of a superstar in indie and folk circles. Her 2014 self-titled debut album hardly suggested global prominence for this enigmatic New Zealander: its beauty and skill were disarmingly clear, but it felt more like a cultish, newly-unearthed gem of a long-lost folk tradition than the green shoots of a world-bestriding talent.
Yet here we are in 2022, with the Aldous Harding album Warm Chris among the most hotly-anticipated of the year. If 2019 album Designer marked Harding’s true breakthrough to a mass audience, having suggested but not quite achieved such a shift on her previous two records, Warm Chris is a consolidation of that following. Like Designer, the songs here are lean and focused, the spiralling oddity of Harding’s early work not so much discarded as woven more tightly into the fabric of a more concise writing style. Tracks like ‘Lawn’ and ‘Tick Tock’ may be her most accessible yet, glittering nuggets of topsy-turvy melody and light-touch percussion, each drum hit and piano detail skipping across the rest of the arrangement like a stone over a lake.
As charming as those songs might be, though, it’s when Harding is at her most unadorned that her writing hits hardest. ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ and ‘Bubbles’ both present the artist in sharp relief, framed by sparse instrumentals which allow her remarkable voice the space to stretch and twist. And although there’s much to love in Warm Chris’s more full-throated moments, and it’s those which will doubtless continue to bring her the success she so richly deserves, it’s hard not to occasionally pine for the transcendental sparseness of her earlier work. Maybe that’s just me being a snob, whinging that my underrated favourite has broken through; but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
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