Aldous Harding apologises a lot.
The New Zealand singer-songwriter apologises for retuning her acoustic guitar after nearly every song. She apologises for the white smock she’s wearing, which appears to have been designed for a giant. And she apologises for playing a set of ‘very sad songs’.
It’s certainly true that the 10-track set is short on merriment. A typical opening line runs, “sadly I feel nothing” (‘Elation’), song titles include ‘Stop Your Tears’, and lyrics reference pills and broken necks.
Couched in the language of traditional, God-fearing folk, her compositions avoid over sentimentality through the adoption of dignified resignation. As such her delivery emotes with impeccable restraint, irrespective of whether she sounds like a more crystalline Vashti Bunyan or a drunk trying to enunciate very clearly.
Her most distinctive feature, her vocals have nowhere to hide on solo arrangements that are so skeletal notes are suspended in silence between her finger picks on the emotional heaviness of ‘Beast’ and ‘Titus Groan’.
This quality creates a sense of timelessness to her music. Songs drawn from her self-titled debut album are simultaneously part of the oral folk tradition, rooted in the 1960s English folk scene, and aligned with the contemporary gothic folk of Weyes Blood.
There are signs that her new material, which she’ll be recording in July, is taking a more folk-blues direction. ‘What If Birds Aren’t Singing, They’re Screaming?’, for instance, recalls Liz Green in its smoky, late night atmosphere. It nonetheless maintains a haunting sparseness that demonstrates the value of sad songs saying so much.