Published Apr 30, 2019Aldous Harding's abstract songwriting left listeners of her past two records confused yet enchanted, and the experience remains for her third album, Designer. But the bewilderment evoked by Harding is a blissful change from how easy it is to digest a lot of contemporary music.
By being vague, Harding shifts the focus to listeners who now have a role to play: to fill in the blanks she has left. In a recent interview with Exclaim!, Harding challenges listeners to do exactly that, explaining: "Designer is meant to mean whatever it means. We know what it means."
The intense stare of "Zoo Eyes" replicates wide-eyed listeners trying to solve Harding's riddle-like songs. "Why? What am I doing in Dubai? In the prime of my life" she asks, hoping we have the answers. And maybe you do. On the bouncy "Fixture Picture," Harding is equally mysterious and plays with the meanings of the words fixture and picture, allowing you to conjure your own theories.
Designer is Harding's sharpest-sounding record to date. She meticulously piles on and strips off instrumental layers. On "Heaven Is Empty," Harding's hushed vocal pauses and soft guitar strums carve out space to ruminate on the titular statement. "Damn," another minimal track, finds Harding slowly walking along a winding road that's lined with blurry regrets: "Sorry I was late and you didn't get your weekend," she sings. Standout track "The Barrel," in contrast, is full and upbeat; here various sonic hues (the brightly picked guitar melody, contrasting tones of the backing singers, warm piano chords) weave together for irresistible results.
Harding continues to keep listeners on their toes with Designer which, overall, is a unique, luminous record that's about whatever you need it to be about. (4AD)