Aldous Harding-Designer: Album Review

Aldous Harding gives you thoughts to ponder.  Like the splatter-paint way she tosses vocal melodies in different colors onto her canvass of small instrumental devices, she throws out lyrical ideas that the listener must then piece together.  Designer is a vaguely evocative world that maybe could fade into the background on first listen, at least outside of some of the catchy numbers, but rewards deeper reflection on what it all means.

Sure, Harding leans into absurdity on occasion.  One song opens with the question “what am I doing in Dubai,” and closer “Pilot” as a whole can be particularly incomprehensible: “I wish it was white/But it needs blood for the new erection.”  Aside from these lyrics that rupture, however, certain ideas seep into her language throughout the work.

One recurring focal point is the idea of childhood perspective and how that creates tension with jaded adulthood.  Single “The Barrel” features a character who essentially knows how the magic trick works and is not interested in seeing it, but Harding speaks constantly about finding that childlike awe again.  “Do not lose your youthful eyes” she instructs on the title track and elsewhere depicts a literal conversation with her younger self: “I took my inner child to a show/he talked all the way home.”

This then relates to a larger theme of temporality–though with time we grow and change, we are constantly in conversation with different versions of ourselves. The simple contrast of the title “Fixture Picture,” for instance, sees the tension of a moment in your life and a person tangled with you more long term.  In it she plans a meet-up with a friend who’s moved on for now: “And how’s the wine where you live? Bet it’s expensive/One day we’ll share a glass together.”  Though the tune begins with a ending of sorts (“As the memory kisses you goodbye”), the moment is never truly gone; whether a person’s memory remains a part of us or we actually manage to reconnect, the people we interact with remain a part of our life.

Tunes like “Weight of the Planets” and “Heaven is Empty” look at the big questions of time, growing up, and death with a more confounded or terrified glance, but the overall effect of the album is rather playful.  Harding’s videos for this album have gotten a lot of traction, and though they can look rather daunting with their specific color patterns and angular motions, they also give you an out with their sense of humor–a perfect metaphor for a provocative work that also doesn’t seek to get you down.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

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