Aldous Harding’s voice – always prone in the past to a dramatic shift in tone – is more chameleonic than ever on her fourth record ‘Warm Chris’. The New Zealander will lay back in a mellow croon, then leap dramatically in an instant into a high-pitched squeal. At points, her accent itself seems to change – on ‘She’ll Be Coming Round The Mountain’ (which bears no relation to the traditional folk song), she employs a full-on Wild West twang.
At the same time, the music behind her is fairly straightforward. ‘Warm Chris’ is a record defined by sparse and deliberate instrumentation, gentle piano and acoustic guitar. Drums are used sparingly, with the occasional simple flourish of organ, banjo or saxophone. It’s frequently beautiful, although on simple terms. The melodies are direct and straightforward. Although the music is gorgeously arranged, Harding’s voice is still placed front-and-centre, made all the more engaging by the tension between her acrobatic singing and her uncomplicated playing.
It’s music that can take time to get your head around, a record that prefers to let Harding’s voice gently disorientate rather than ever let its listener settle. It’s often deeply weird, as on closer ‘Leathery Whip’, where Sleaford Mods’ Jason Williamson provides quivering, camp backing vocals and Harding flits between two voices – one a Nico-style contralto, and the other so preposterously nasal it borders on funny. Sometimes it’s just completely jarring: take the bridge on the otherwise gently balanced ‘Staring At The Henry Moore’, where her vocal is thrust loudly to the very front of the mix for a single word.
Harding’s endless twists and turns are nothing if not engaging, however, and if you embrace ‘Warm Chris’’ strangeness, you’ll be justly rewarded. Its unpredictability can be the album’s greatest asset, able to keep a listener constantly on their toes, perplexed and enthralled all at once. The points where it reaches the realms of complete ridiculousness are all part of the record’s rich emotional range. It’s to Harding’s credit that she’s unafraid to treat the ridiculous and the sublime with equal reverence.
Once given the time and attention it demands, ‘Warm Chris’ is the kind of album that will eventually take root somewhere deep. Its complexities mean that each listen holds new revelations, the record growing richer and richer over time. Given the simplicity and straightforwardness of its instrumentation, it’s not mean feat that the album is this immersive. Aldous Harding is truly one of a kind.
Release date: March 25
Record label: 4AD