More than any other branch of music, folk gives serious weight to both story and sound, pulling on two arts until they touch. It is an effort few can muster, though the current popularity of “folk” as a genre tag suggests any person with a ukulele and a whistle can do it. Aldous Harding won’t stomach this thin, cute-hearted deceit; she bends the boughs until they quiver, near to breaking, and in that ache hears a song.
Her instrumentation is stark, relying mostly on the grace of plucked guitar notes to support her smoky, trembling words. “Stop Your Tears” begins, “I will never marry, my love/I will die waiting for the bells/death come pull me underwater/I have nothing left to fear from hell.” Later toward the song’s end we hear, “I am at the river with baby/her father enters with a leap/hold her head above the water/she is pale against the stream/I am the horse beneath his daughter/he is the mountain underneath.”
Her clear, pained imagery can be harrowing, but who can deny the grip of a poet? This darkness does not go unbalanced, and the sweet, life-affirming words of the song “Merriweather” shine a light so that we can see more clearly the many shades a human shadow casts: “My name is Merriweather/I sing just like I sing/This song that I’m living/grace has given me/the one that I love is here by my side/and a love that’s been holy till this world sucks me dry.” The paced earnestness of this track colors in Harding’s identity and helps us believe that joy is no less honest for its simplicity.
The young artist from New Zealand digs after the bones of the human experience: birth, fear, grief, love. Her work makes the heart and spirit sweat under her unflinching stare, but once plumbed we feel some fountain within come undammed, and think not anymore that life is beautiful but so sad, but rather that life is sad but so beautiful.»
– Ethan Martin
*Aldous Harding plays the Wonder Ballroom on Oct. 16 with Deerhunter. Tickets here.