The New Zealander’s latest is beautiful on the surface, yet becomes even more wonderful when given a chance, staking its claim as the first great album of the coming summer
Aldous Harding – the nom-de-music of New Zealand’s Hannah Harding – has generated quite the reputation as one of the world’s finest purveyors of pungent, vetiver-scented oddball folk. It’s lush at times, and scary at others, but generally it’s a fine blend of the two. Sharp and artistic, it maintains an aura of the inaccessible while being ultimately rather pleasant and agreeable. Simply put, there’s something not quite right about it, but many folks enjoy persisting despite the pain.
Speaking of uncomfortable pleasures, one supposes you might be able to draw a metaphorical line – straight and direct – between Harding and her new collaborator, Sleaford Mods‘ Jason Williamson. Both make music that speaks directly to the pleasure centres (Harding the head, Williamson the heart), and both combine to simply magical effect on Warm Chris’ closing track, Leathery Whip. The lyrics (“Here comes life with his leathery whip!”) are, happily, a nice summation of the interplay between these two vastly different operators, and the music comes off as a nice accompaniment to the words.
The opener, Ennui, starts with a jaunty piano-led rhythm, and gradually unfolds into the smooth kind of sultry piano-pop you might find on a record by Joan As Police Woman, and it’s not a million miles from what Aimee Mann was doing on Queens Of The Summer Hotel. Just great, great songwriting that lets the listener reflect as they enjoy. Tick Tock, the second track, is more of a bewildering beast. It’s mixed so that the layers don’t blend so much as lay directly in the way of each other.
Fever, the third tune, sounds so much like Cate Le Bon’s recent material that it could bring a tear to your eye. The synergy of these two incredible artists is wonderful to see (and hear) and perhaps it comes down to the fact that despite sharing many artistic impulses, they move in similar circles and share friendly ears (H Hawkline and Gavin Fitzjohn are both main band members on Warm Chris, and both – Hawkline in particular – have appeared on the same recordings as Cate Le Bon).
Harding does her signature weird vocal thing on Passion Babe, then her signature husky whisper thing on Staring At The Henry Moore. She adds some tropicalia pep to the rhythms of Lawn (try not to be put off by the terrifying vocals), but slows things back down for Bubbles.
Warm Chris, for all of its horror, is actually a rather endearing thing. More enjoyable at the second time of listening, it becomes more so at the third time of asking. The music of Aldous Harding is beautiful on the surface, but becomes even more wonderful when given a chance, and when it’s as good a first listen as Warm Chris is, finding time to dive back in is a rather simple task. Warm Chris is the first great album of the coming summer.