Aldous Harding could never be accused of being a natural entertainer. The New Zealand musician seems to shrink into herself between songs, her guitar held at an uncomfortable angle as she retunes it in awkward silence.
Yet when she starts to perform it’s like she’s being possessed by gothic spirits. Her eyes bulging, she grimaces her way through the songs with expressive hand gestures in an utterly captivating manner.
Completely embodying the material, she seems to assume a different vocal persona for each track. Haughty and Nico-esque on ‘I’m So Sorry’, which is undercut by the occasional electric piano flourish, she then becomes childlike on ‘Party’ and a sultry jazz chanteuse on ‘Living The Classics’.
It’s an intensity that distorts simply crafted songs, such as the 60’s solo folk of ‘Swell Does The Skull’, and that lends menace to otherwise sweet sentiments. When she whispers “You’re the perfect man” on ‘Blend’, for instance, she makes it sound like a hex, the electronic drum pattern and nagging bass line increasing the tension.
The use of simple programming and disconcerting backing vocals, as with the cheerful self-mocking yelps on ‘Imagining My Man’, help to elevate material from second album Party above pure folk. It also counter-intuitively increases the silence within the songs, with the space between the echoing drums on studio outtake ‘Elation’ laden with threat.
This sonic layering is absent from the two new songs in the set, the finger-picked ‘The World Is Looking For You’ and the minimal keys of ‘Pilot’. They nonetheless maintain her otherworldliness and a sense that, as she sings in the former, “I can do anything.”