Aldous Harding Brings Her Mystique to the Crystal Ballroom

The New Zealand singer-songwriter remains a fascinating enigma.

Aldous Harding has been referred to as cryptic, unreachable and uncategorizable. She creates music that has been dubbed folk, alternative, gothic folk, and surreal pop. Her voice is a shifting tremolo, stretching toward a compact muffle and back again within the space of seconds.

Yet one thing about the New Zealand singer-songwriter is beyond debate: Since her 2014 self-titled debut, she has undergone a Bowie-ish transformation that she has taken a step further with her new album, Warm Chris.

Following 2019′s acclaimed Designer, Warm Chris arrived on 4AD Records this March. Once again, Harding joined forces with producer John Parish (PJ Harvey, Eels, Parquet Courts, and many others), continuing a partnership that started with 2017′s Party, which helped Harding push into a new realm of artistry.

If you go back and listen to Aldous Harding (Lyttelton Records), you’ll hear a completely different version of Harding, whose given name is Hannah Sian Topp. Aldous Harding is a collection of haunting folk songs with pastoral themes (and the occasional singing saw), while Party saw her dipping into a distorted croon with songs like “Imagining My Man.”

Harding is also known for trippy music videos like “The Barrel,” which depicts her dancing around birth itself with signature shoulder shifts and wild eyes. Not only is the imagery cinematic, but it offers a taste of what she brings to her live performances.

When Harding is on stage, she appears possessed. Her eyes look around as if to say, “Where is this voice coming from?” She’s a delightful trip, sometimes looking half-worried as she channels untamed energy to get the words out.

Harding recently told Pitchfork that much of her songwriting emerges from an indescribable process. Typically, she can hardly recall how it happened—why she thought of those words, where she was at the time, how certain thoughts came to her.

Above all, Harding is a shapeshifter, especially when it comes to songs like “Leathery Whip,” which allows her voice to creep into a goblinesque pitch. Or “Passion Babe,” in which she belts out lyrics about an adulterous event while accompanied by a sexy-cheery bassline and jazzy piano.

According to her manager, Harding doesn’t do any tour press and rarely speaks with media. Yet in the Pitchfork interview, she shared how uncomfortable it is to talk about her songwriting process: “It’s like somebody who doesn’t like to dance because they don’t like their body. Suddenly, I’m in the middle of the floor, and I’ve got my hips working, and I just feel awful. You know?”

Fair enough. We don’t need a peak behind the curtain. Harding refers to herself as more of a “song artist” than a musician, but what she’s called doesn’t matter. What matters is that her music is enough.

GO: Aldous Harding plays the Crystal Ballroom, 1332 W Burnside St., 503-225-0047, crystalballroompdx.com. 8 pm Monday, June 27. $26-$30. All ages.