She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain
Staring at the Henry Moore
On “Tick Tock,” the second track on Warm Chris, Aldous Harding asks, “Now that you see me, what you gonna do? Wanted to see me.” The New Zealand singer-songwriter’s lyrics have always been veiled and poetically cryptic—and she’s made a point of not explaining the meaning behind any of it. But her fourth album feels assured and open in a way that makes you wonder whether the question is directed at an audience that's been wanting to learn more about this singular artist. There’s a lot to see here, and like a well-directed film, it benefits from multiple replays, with more nuances and hidden meanings uncovered on each listen.
Across her four albums, you’ll notice a linear emotional evolution. Speaking to Apple Music in 2019 about her then-new album Designer, she said, “I felt freed up… I could feel a loosening of tension, a different way of expressing my thought processes.” The journey clearly continued. Warm Chris is as intimate and curious as ever, but it’s more grounded, more confident. If the tension was loosening on Designer, here, Harding has grown accustomed to the relaxed space and made herself at home.
The album seems to deal primarily with connections and relationships. She reflects on a lost love during opener “Ennui” (“You’ve become my joy, you understand… Come back, come back and leave it in the right place”), hunts for faded excitement on “Fever” (“I still stare at you in the dark/Looking for that thrill in the nothing/You know my favorite place is the start”), comically complains on “Passion Babe” (“Well, you know I’m married, and I was bored out of my mind/Of all the ways to eat a cake, this one surely takes the knife… Passion must play, or passion won’t stay”), and accepts an ending on “Lawn” (“Then if you're not for me, guess I am not for you/I will enjoy the blue, I’m only confused with you”).
On the whole, Warm Chris feels light and folksy, and the music is relatively simple—though not without its surprises. There are brass embellishments here, a psychedelic guitar solo there, even a brief foray into forlorn vintage blues on “Bubbles.” It leaves space for Harding’s voice to remain in the spotlight. Her vocal acrobatics are as strange and versatile as ever—she can shift from breathy, dramatically deep bass to ultra-fine, ultra-high falsetto in moments, sometimes for only a word at a time. She sounds innocent and paper-thin on the gentle “Lawn,” lively—and inflected with an unusual accent—on “Passion Babe.” Her delivery is so pronounced and hyperbolic on the heart-wrenching “She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain” that it sounds like something out of a musical. And album closer “Leathery Whip” feels inspired by The Velvet Underground, complete with a deep Nico drawl (occasionally flipping to a Kate Bush-style nasal tone), backing harmonies, a jangling tambourine, and a cheeky refrain: “Here comes life with his leathery whip.”