REVIEW: Novelty Daughter - Semigoddess

Laura Kerry

When you really think about it, jazz and electronic make a natural pairing. Fortunately for you and me, Novelty Daughter creates music that doesn’t require us to think too hard about it. Melding a background in jazz piano and vocal training, LA’s DJ scene, and Berlin warehouses, the artist—who is really Faith Harding, based in Brooklyn—emerges with a new formula that resembles art pop more than any one of its constituent parts. As such, it opens itself up easily, letting the pleasures of good production, songwriting, and singing wash over you on a visceral plane.

Semigoddess, Novelty Daughter’s first full-length album after an EP and many single releases over the last few years, contains a surprising amount of the markers that define electronically-driven pop: pulsing beat loops to ride along with, a colorful palette of synths, and vocal hooks to grab onto. That last feat is especially unexpected considering Harding’s seemingly rarefied skills as a singer and songwriter. Using her training, she performs wild acrobatics with her voice, twisting and leaping her way through melodies rife with strange intervals, enjambment, and other phrasing oddities. Harding has mastered jazz singing’s main tenet, using the voice as an instrument, but despite that, you might still find yourself humming your best approximation of lines from Semigoddess long after you’ve finished it.

Take her lead single, “Day of Inner Fervor,” for example. Anchored by a deep, pounding backbeat and laced with a sharp, nervous synth, Novelty Daughter sets the stage for a track on the disco side of EDM. The melody, though, with its uneven moments of lagging and rushing and its skipping from low to high, comes from a much stranger place, more suited to a dark bar that serves unheard-of foreign spirits than a throbbing nightclub. Some of the lyrics also hint at intriguing obscurity (“Stone of desire / And stone of pride…”), while others, including the refrain, are more approachable (“I can’t figure out just what I’m going to do”). This push and pull between art and pop continues throughout the album—in the falsetto that floats dreamily over percussion in “The Occupation,” in the sparkling synths accompanying Novelty Daughter’s poeticizing female objectification in “Shellbody”—in tension but never at odds.

In one of the best and most joyful-sounding songs, “I’ll Sing,” she marries grand themes with a briskly-moving, euphoric pop tune. In it, her rejection of organized religion comes in the form of a layer of voices repeating, “I’ll sing hallelujah,” mimicking an ecstatic show of religious feeling before she finishes the line with“only when I got someone to sing it to.” Here and elsewhere, Harding is clever with her seriousness, sneaking it into songs that pulse with the energy of good electronic production and the breeziness of pop. In “I’ll Sing” and all of Semigoddess, Novelty Daughter is so intelligent that we don’t have to be. She lets us just sit back and enjoy the music.