New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding opens up her voice into dazzling new worlds | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding opens up her voice into dazzling new worlds


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On her remarkable new album Party (4AD), New Zealand singer-songwriter Aldous Harding manages to further strip down an already minimal sound while dramatically extending her range. There are a few songs on the new album—magnificently and resourcefully produced by frequent PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish—where the diaphanous, eerie folk of her striking eponymous debut remains, but on most of it she uses her voice to create a dazzling variety of musical personas, cumulatively offering a richness and depth I didn’t expect even given how much I loved her first album. Over spare beats, a gentle acoustic guitar arpeggio, and a few electronic squiggles, she can push her voice into pixie range, suggesting Joanna Newsom. Then there’s “Imagining My Man,” during which she unleashes a much fuller, deeper presence over a simple piano-and-drum pattern, meditating on her desire of yet hesitance toward letting herself be loved, and singing at first with gossamer restraint before gloriously opening up. Later, “I’m So Sorry” carries subtle soul inflections, its beautiful melody shadowed by a tantalizingly brief backing-vocal response. Nearly all of the songs are constructed around a rudimentary piano or guitar part, but terse embellishments—the plangent saxophone arrangement on “Imagining My Man,” the soaring cameo Mike Hadreas (Perfume Genius) makes on “Swell Does the Skull”—occasionally pop up and caress this song or that with a masterful accent. Still, it’s her voice that has me riveted.   v

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