Sunday, March 27, 2016

Novelty Daughter: Up From Underground

Novelty Daughter stands alone.
"All the best music happens underground," I told Faith Harding, who performs as Novelty Daughter, and she readily agreed. We were indeed below ground, at Elvis Guesthouse in the basement of 85 Avenue A, but both meanings of the word were implied and understood. We were there to celebrate the release of her debut LP, Semigoddess, which crystalizes the sound she has been pursuing since 2013. Marrying her smoky but light soprano to next-level electronics, that sound is intoxicating indeed.

While she is a lover of house and other electronic dance music, she is not a slave to the rhythm. She deploys beats as just another element along with complex counterpoint, dissonance, jazz-inflected chords, and a dazzling variety of textures. But when she brings that hammer down, as on Day Of Inner Fervor, it's a shot of pure pleasure that commands you to move. Remixers should have fun with that one. Another instant-impact track is Shellbody, with a chill-inducing intro of watery chords and diamond-bright notes leading into a contemplative rhythm and some of Harding's most sublime singing.

Novelty Daughter has lyrical game, too, exploring the betwixt and between sensation of being young enough to feel life's endless possibilities but mature enough to feel the pull of its also endless responsibilities. The opening track Not Fair, she recently told The Fader, "is about my confusing relationship with myself. As the title suggests, it's kind of a small tantrum against the notion that this relationship should be secure and fixed, that you are supposed to know know exactly who you are at any given time, when that 'who' is shifting and morphing continuously."

These are complex notions and the music on Semigoddess is not simple, either. There is often tension between the vocal melodies and the music. Rather than going together hand in glove, it feels like the glove is levitating over the hand, which could make for challenging listening for some people. But if you listen actively, you'll find it making more and more sense, and the combination of voice and music just may bewitch you. To fully invite the spell, I suggest vinyl, if you do that - I found it both opened up the sound and gave it more weight. 

Another word about Harding's voice: it's one of the realest things in music today. Watching her sing along to her recorded self with zero hesitation and perfect pitch is akin to a high wire act. The live experience since I last saw her has also been enhanced with an extra player, allowing for more intricacy and flexibility. Double the laptops and keys, double the fun. Three songs on Semigoddess also feature cellist Greg Heffernan, an organic element that fits in perfectly.

Novelty Daughter, now a duo, performing at Elvis Guesthouse.
The show at Elvis Guesthouse also featured Suzi Analogue, Star Eyes and DJ Earl. I was only able to stay for the first but very glad I did. Her electronics always had an eye on keeping the crowd moving while also being bright and busy enough to almost be Baroque. Patterns would develop, meet new patterns and then there would be a pattern of patterns, making for a kaleidoscopic effect. In brief, she knows what she's doing, sings nice, and may just love 68 Million Shades as much as I still do.

Getting back to Semigoddess, I'm just going to say that it is highly unlikely that there will be a more original debut album - or better electronic music, for that matter - in 2016. Novelty Daughter is coming up from underground - will you be there to greet her?

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