Aldous Harding – Party
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The follow-up to the self-described "gothic folk" singer/songwriter's 2015 eponymous debut, Party is downcast New Zealander Aldous Harding's first outing for 4AD. It's a fitting partnership, as her minimalist, chamber pop arrangements, dark confessional lyrics, and wee-hours-of-the-morning vibe invoke some of the famed British independent label's most notable exports (Kristin Hersh, Kendra Smith, Lisa Germano, Emma Pollock, etc.). Built on a foundation that's pure Nico-esque chanteuse baritone, Harding's voice manages to come off as both distinct and mercurial, reserved and whispery, à la Vashti Bunyan one minute and full-throated PJ Harvey the next. The simplicity of the arrangements casts its own spell, with Harding switching pretty evenly between fingerpicked guitar and melancholy-wet piano throughout the just-under-40-minute set. Tracks like the Perfume Genius-assisted lead single "Imagining My Man," the cyclical "What If Birds Aren't Singing They're Screaming," and the spartan title cut all benefit from the amount of space that swirls about them -- the melodies themselves, often circular and self-referential, only add more nuance to the overall intimacy. Harding's writing style begs for sonic melodrama in the same way that Lana Del Ray, Tales of Us-era Goldfrapp, or even Agnes Obel's do, but by stripping her balladry of any ostentatious finery, her myriad discomforts and occasional small joys are conveyed in a way that feels bereft of any sort of hyperbole. Party finds the sweet spot between raw and refined, and in doing so, feels very real.