A Few Words About Aldous Harding…

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.

Marty Duda




Marty Duda
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  1. Aldous Harding is on Jools Holland, taking it to the world. Big Ups. Amazing performance, with extra emphasis on the ‘performance’. What’s not to like? Haters gonna hate, but they aint on Jools now are they?

  2. Having seen her in person and seeing his review , his credibility is totally fucked for me. His review was the definition of puerile and I don’t actually know what he thought it would achieve .
    He comes across like an old out of touch man who makes dad jokes about the funny things the kids wear today. Just like those old codgers he’s consigned to the dustbins of “who cares what you think”. All his powers as a reviewer have withered in the face of a powerful young female singer with far more of a life force and relevance than him.

  3. I often enjoy Simon’s writing, but I really don’t like when he resorts to lazy trolling tactics like that review; a dumb punchline in lieu of a meaningful opinion.

    Never heard her before listening to that youtube clip. I would listen to more on that basis, although it sounds kind of like a less developed Joanna Newsom to me, but there’s definitely something there. I find her facial expressions very distracting/offputting, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying it sans visuals.

  4. I’ve never thought of her as polarising, Marty. Confronting? maybe! Anyone who doesn’t ‘fit’ is fair game from this judgemental age that we live in. I choose to listen and either adsorb or disregard, I’ll absorb Aldous Harding ‘cos I like what she does. As a critic Marty, maybe stick to commenting on the music and the performance NOT on someone else’s comments that you can choose to absorb or disregard.

  5. Thanks for the Aldous words Marty. Did not want to comment on Simon’s “review as it was only designed to enhance his reputation as a “cutting edge” critic who maintains his status by regularly dissing an artist. Great that you could provide some balance. Recommend your recent, excellent, Aldous interview to anyone interested in checking out this enticing artist.

  6. Someone had to say it.
    What used to be a bit of a laugh, the odd ranting review, has now turned into continualy slobbish attempts to entertain through any kind of controversy he can muster.
    Put down the pen Sweetman..

  7. Well said Marty that Simon Sweetman is a real piece of work I avoid reading anything of his. He regularly uses his keyboard to show what an asshole he really is. I think Aldous H is very brave and I personally love her art and wish her every success.

  8. re: Aldous Harding review: Right on Marty. Particularly the reference to criticism by some, that can only be described as unnecessarily aggressive. I’m not a hearty fan of Aldous Harding, but the girl can sing and (unlike many in the scene at the mo) is willing to wear her art on her sleeve without fear, no small thing.

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