Does anyone else remember the days before streaming services? Before playlists? If you wanted to get someone into a certain band, or play them a selection of the artists you’d be watching live at the weekend, you couldn’t just drag every song they’d ever written into a playlist and send it to them over email. Nope. You really had to think about it, to distil that feeling you wanted to give them down into a few tough choices.
Tapes had two sides, both 45 minutes long. You had that long to say what you needed to say and then it was time to move on. We’re bringing that challenge back in our mixtape. 45 minutes to convince someone why they should like a certain band, artist, genre, or era.
I prattled on about Why I Love Aldous Harding on the podcast a couple of years ago, and since then she still hasn’t left my regular rotation. When she released her latest album this year, to somewhat mixed reviews, my love only grew – she is the most captivating artist on the planet right now.
While her fame and acclaim have grown over the years, I still don’t feel she gets the love and attention she truly deserves. My work didn’t end with that podcast ramble. So here I am, two and a half years later, trying again to convince you you should rate her as highly as I do.
‘Blend’ – 2.29
We’ll kick off with that outstanding ‘Blend’. It may be short, but it does a hell of a lot with its run time. I think it is the perfect way to introduce this artist who manages to ‘blend’ her oddball nature and performance with a real classic feel at the same time. ‘Blend’ is simplistic, but there’s a uniqueness to her breathy vocals, an implacability in the lyrics.
This is Aldous. Welcome.
‘Lawn’ – 3.37
‘Lawn’ is a highlight from her latest album, Warm Chris. It’s a lighter, breezier Aldous than you’ll hear on the majority of my mixtape but it takes its place so soon on my list because of its upbeat nature. I feel like I am drawing the listener in at this point, maybe lulling them into a false sense of security before I unleash Aldous’s full weirdness.
Not that this isn’t weird. What on earth is she singing about? Who knows and who cares? I love it.
‘Old Peel’ – 3.16
Okay. Now we’re getting strange, especially if you watch the video. And that clicky sound you hear throughout the song? Yes, that is Aldous playing a mug with a drumstick. Why not, hey?
I first saw this song live, an encore at the end of a festival set – it promised a new Aldous sound that never actually appeared, another new sound coming on Warm Chris instead. But that’s why we love her, right? Who else veers off to a whole different soundscape just for one song and then never goes back? And who else does it with one of their best ever songs?
‘Hunter’ – 4.29
We’re going back to the beginning now, with the only song I’ve chosen from her self-titled debut. This may not actually be the best song from that great album, but it was the first thing I heard by her and the one that got me hooked – so it makes it on sentimental value.
It is exceptional, though. As is the whole of this more straightforward folk album. The reason more cuts from the earliest work don’t make it is because of how amazing Aldous is, how much she continues to test herself and grow.
‘Party’ – 5.43
If someone was to ask me to play a single song to sum up Aldous Harding, this would be the one. The title song from her best album starts off quiet, sweet, and only odd if you delve into the lyrics and try to understand their meaning. But it soon evolves into a bizarreness that is entirely created by her use of her voice, the way she stretches it into something unrecognisable.
Then there’s the line ‘stones smell good when you cuddle them’ which gets to me every time. Then the vocal layering, the slow build, the ever louder piano – this song is an absolute masterpiece. Inject it into my soul.
‘The Barrel’ – 4.59
While ‘Party’ may be her best song, ‘The Barrel’ is my favourite. Featuring on third album ‘Designer’ it shows the extremely playful, mystical, and thoughtful mix of Aldous’s music and has some of her most mystifying lyrics yet. Also her craziest video.
‘Look at all the peaches/How do you celebrate?/Can’t appear inside of nowhere/It’s already dead/I know you have the dove/Looks like a date is set/Show the ferret to the egg/I’m not getting led along.’
You what, mate? Who cares. Just listen to it and fall in love.
‘Passion Babe’ – 3.33
I wanted to speed things up a bit at this point. ‘Passion Babe’ is my favourite track from Warm Chris, but it doesn’t even really sound like the same artist as the rest of this mixtape. How is she doing this with her voice? Why has she developed a whole new style just for this song?
The one thing that does clearly identify who is singing is the inscrutability of the words. This is Aldous doing a pop song and I am here for it all day long.
‘Imagining My Man’ – 5.51
Coming from the same album, ‘Imagining My Man’ shares characteristics with ‘Party’ in that it has a really classic, traditional feel and format but bursts into moments that really could only be Aldous. The chorus and the welp of ‘hey’. It is just a little off-kilter, all while sounding like a flight through the sky on a cloud made of velvet.
‘Weight Of The Planets’ – 4.43
We’re getting close to the end now, and I want to give you some light relief before I kick you in the guts with the final song. ‘Weight of the Planets’ is breezy, carefree Aldous at her best. It’s simple, bare bones, but almost funky in the chorus. An otherworldly song from an otherworldly artist.
‘Swell Does The Skull’ – 5.48
I couldn’t leave you feeling relaxed and joyful, though – could I? Anyone who knows me knows my music taste leans to the miserable, and ‘Swell Does The Skull’ is one of Aldous’s most brutal and affecting moments. Listening to this one after the likes of ‘Weight of the Planets’ and ‘Passion Babe’ not only shows her versatility, but also demonstrates the emotional and creative range she possesses.
This song starts downbeat and somehow gets more so as she progresses, provoking tears in even the cheeriest of listeners. But the mixtape ends with this one because I want listeners to see how Aldous worms her way in, how even when you don’t understand everything she is saying she sticks with you. Aldous makes you feel with her words, her vocal inflections, the simple wonder of her music. She is a true one off, and ‘Swell Does The Skull’ is the perfect example of why.
Okay, so there it is. How did I do? If this is your first time listening to Aldous Harding, or if you have heard the odd bit but never really given her a full go, did I convince you? What songs are your favourites?
And for the fans – go on then, tell me what I missed? What would your mixtape have looked like?
Words by Fran Slater