New Zealand-based Hannah Harding – who records as Aldous Harding – kicks down the doors of perception, like her druggy writer namesake. In her case, though, it’s the limitations of folk music that she skews. This, her third album, finds her on haunting and beautiful form. PJ Harvey member and producer John Parish is on production duties here, and H Hawkline and Sweet Baboo are her male counterparts.
She disrupts pop, folk and indie in such a startling way that possibly only Kristin Hersh and Cate Le Bon could be noble comparisons. It’s the flutter in her gorgeous voice; the funereal chant of Damn, and the bizarre, surreal lyrics (“Show the ferret to the egg”, she creamily croons on The Barrel) that so disarm.
It’s the invention (the child’s voice entwined with her adult self in The Barrel) and how she toys with the listener in almost jazz rhythms and coquetteish/severe vocal cadences on the title track.
Zoo Eyes could almost be a Velvet Underground song, from Lou Reed’s more introspective moments, but as ever, Harding never likes to settle into rewarding the listener with complacency. It’s stroking and slapping; reward and punishment. The quietude means it’s dreamlike, but dinner party music, it ain’t. Heaven is Empty is at once deadpan and dead creepy, bringing shivers to the warmest room.
Eccentric, with subtle undercurrents of malice, her acoustic guitar washes, and bursts of piano and xylophone are like little sucker punches delivered in velvet gloves. She’s the aural equivalent of a sinister but intriguing painting with piercing eyes that you often return to, but can’t quite place. Backing vocals are so hushed that when they combine, they feel genderless.
A “visionary shimmer”, indeed.