There is no doubt that Aldous Harding’s music is polarising. Some (like me), love it, others find her vocal affectations annoying and her intense live performances, either weirdly comedic or darkly disturbing. But Harding’s recent appearance on Later With Jools finds the artist taking things further than ever… big, dramatic gestures, a voice that careens from deep growl to a stratospheric screech and facial expressions that seem like discarded masks from the set of Twin Peaks.
Watching this, for me, was unsettling and thrilling. I was thrilled that Aldous had made it to such a high-profile media outlet, that so many more people would be exposed to her music, yet I was concerned that she was turning into a caricature of herself… trying too hard to make an impression.
One thing is certain… I hadn’t seen anything like this in quite a while and I have nothing but admiration for an artist using such a public forum to really test the limits of what she can do.
Needless to say, not everyone is impressed with this performance or her new album, Party.
Aldous Harding’s self-titled debut album found the young singer-songwriter taking on the persona of an English folk singer. Gothic-folk it was called… but it was still fairly traditional… gently strummed acoustic guitar, Aldous’ somewhat straightforward vocal delivery and songs that could have come from an old Shirley Collins album.
Now, on Party, Harding is experimenting with her voice and in the process, developing her own sound. This has raised the ire and/or ridicule of some people.
One of them is Simon Sweetman. The Wellington-based writer recently posted his “review” of Party on his blog, Off The Tracks. The post consisted of a couple of sentences, referring to Aldous as “The Florence Foster Jenkins of Folk” and then accompanied them with a Youtube clip of “Funny Goats Screaming Like Humans.”
As expected, Simon was rewarded with a few comments from his followers telling him how clever he was and how much they agreed with him.
Then, Sweetman followed up with a Facebook post of Harding’s Later With Jools performance and another snide comment to underline is distaste for what he saw and heard.
Again, the sycophants came out and had a good laugh.
But then something happened.
People who actually care about music and musicians showed up to express their support for Harding and their disdain for the way she was being treated.
I think Jan Hellriegal got the ball rolling, then came Victoria Kelly, Matthew Crawley, Nadia Reid and Hollie Fullbrook. Reid’s comment was the most notable… ”I’m so bored of boring out-spoken middle-aged people thinking their opinion is important… this has really hit a nerve with me. Watch out.”
What hit a nerve with me was the disrespectful and sophomoric way in which Sweetman chose to express his opinion of Harding’s music.
Of course he has every right to not like it… he’s not alone. But I see no point in posting a video clip of a braying goat and calling it a review. It’s juvenile, it’s mean-spirited, and it’s lazy.
I don’t care what artist we are talking about… Aldous Harding, Madonna, Bob Dylan or Morrissey… if someone makes the effort to put themselves out there, they deserve to be treated with at least a modicum of dignity… even if that means ignoring them completely, or pointing out what you think is wrong with what they’ve produced, or maybe how it could be better.
Let’s face it, music appreciation is extremely subjective and everyone has an opinion.
Those who choose to condemn Aldous Harding’s vocal affectations should note that Bob Dylan started out taking on the voice of Woody Guthrie… the Minnesota-raised 20 year-old sounds like a wizened Okie on his first album.
There are plenty of artists who take on personas, pull faces and take on various voices in an effort to express themselves… Thom Yorke, Alice Cooper, Tom Waits, David Bowie all come to mind, and that’s after thinking about it for about 30 seconds.
So instead of ridiculing an up and coming artist who is trying to find her own voice (and in my opinion, doing an impressive job of it), why not show a little support? If you can’t bring yourself to do that, how about some constructive criticism? And if all else fails… then just shut up.
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