Review Summary: feels like a sly wink
When Aldous Harding rose to prominence with 2017’s Party
, the commentary was as much about the artist as the art itself. It was as if the entire music world was asking the same question – who exactly is
Aldous Harding? It’s a question that has no simple answer, or rather has several, because Hannah Sian Topp, the vaudevillian behind the red curtain, makes no such delineation between performer and performance. When Topp inputs her creative energy into the back box that is Aldous Harding, the output is always delightfully weird and unexpected: take, for example, the music video for ‘Blend’, where Topp, dressed as the cowgirl playmate from Apocalypse Now
, dances licentiously for the male gaze; or her Jools Holland performance of ‘Horizon’, a lugubrious catharsis set to stage lights. More nebulous than a mere persona, Aldous Harding is the mannequin that bends and contorts to Topp’s pulling of the strings – and in Designer
, we’re given front row seats to the show.
It’s fascinating to hear Topp’s subtle recalibrations and transmutations, from song to song. Her vocal range in ‘Zoo Eyes’ is so impressive as to feel schizophrenic, with low, sonorous verses propping up those diaphanous choruses, breathy and puerile. In ‘Weight of the Planets’, Topp burnishes a bossa nova groove with rounded jazz vowels, while in ‘Designer’ she swaggers with a touch of PJ Harvey’s trademark laconism. Though Designer
is decidedly more buoyant than the oppressively brooding Party
, Topp’s lyrics remain as dense and impenetrable as ever. During ‘The Barrel’, her pensive meditations on the finality of love – ‘When you have a child, so begins the braiding,’ she laments – are betrayed by bucolic fingerpicking and piano plonks. All plangent strums and languid strings, ‘Fixture Picture’ is as bittersweet as a long sigh; and yet Topp’s opening verse – ‘It's better to live with melody and have an honest time, isn’t that right?’ – feels like a sly wink, in retrospect. This is not to say that Designer
is at all dishonest or contrived, but rather the opposite: It’s paradoxical that an artist as beguiling as Aldous Harding can create music as strikingly earnest as this.