As she revealed on her breakthrough sophomore album, Party, Aldous Harding is an artist capable of shapeshifting not only track to track, but at times somewhere between verses. Her third album, Designer (4AD), seemingly belying its title, is similarly slippery, with Harding’s voice being the most slithery of its elements.
Leading off with ”Fixture Picture,” the record begins with a honey-toned acoustic reverie. Here, she evokes a somewhat bittersweet vibe, her band slowly joining in to fill in the empty spaces and add their voices to hers. By the second track, though, Harding has already changed pace, adapting a different voice and cadence for something more airy and light. That approach seems to contrast with Party’s inherent darkness, but one can still glimpse the thread, however thin, that ties them and everything she’s done together. On “Zoo Eyes,” she veers between the deep vocals that characterized Party standout “Imagining My Man” and a high-pitched voice that brings Blonde Hedhead’s Kazu Makino to mind. The highlight here, though, is first single “The Barrel.” The song’s mid-tempo groove plays off of Harding’s mix of voices, and the juxtaposition makes it standout all the more.
Produced by noted PJ Harvey collaborator John Parish, Designer feels intimate, without being desolate, and intricate without being too precious. It’s a charming record that has both resonance and effervescence, and shows Harding once again to be a unique talent.