Little Death is the superbly articulated and meticulously crafted debut that Jesse Harding has been sitting on since 2015.
Try not to hate Northern Ontario-based singer-songwriter Jesse Harding too much. I get it, though; that may not be easy after listening to his album, Little Death, and discovering that he’s been sitting on this superbly articulated and meticulously crafted debut since 2015. That’s the year Harding decided to lock himself in a room to write and record music that, in his words, he was “proud of, purely for [his] own consumption.” Greedy bastard. It’ll make you downright furious to know that he admits to only listening to the finished album a couple of times in all those years, the music “degrading byte by byte on an old laptop’s hard drive” all this time. Still, like me, you should grit your teeth and be thankful he’s finally come to his senses and let this record out into the light.
In all seriousness though, like many musicians these past many months, it was the pandemic that snapped Harding out of his procrastination. On his decision to release the album, he says the world is in “a really weird place” and the idea of trying to market new music wasn’t sitting well with him: “But simply sitting and waiting for the world to regain some normalcy isn’t doing it for me. So I’ve decided to do what little I can to put something out into the world that may spark some semblance of joy in people.” To that end, he’s pledged to donate profits from sales and streaming of Little Death to Helping Our Northern Neighbours, a grassroots organization that helps remote Northern communities overcome their high cost of living and lack of affordable supplies and food.
Helping Our Northern Neighbours is a noble and worthy cause, one as close to Harding’s heart as his music. Hearing the love and attention to detail in his work, I don’t blame him for holding on to Little Death for so long. What’s immediately striking about Harding’s writing style is his authenticity. It’s clear right from the start that he’s not trying to impress anyone but himself — and I mean that with the utmost sincerity and respect. Every ounce of weight and gravitas in songs like “Box” and “Enough, So That You Don’t Have To” is the work of his own hand: he plays every instrument, sings every note, and single-handedly wrings every last emotion out of these songs.
“Annie” is far from a typical bedroom indie-pop recording. Its swelling acoustic guitars whip Harding’s breathy vocals into cresting waves that come crashing down into sad and beautiful verses about funeral marches and wordless looks. The title track crackles with campfire ambiance and Harding’s hesitant phrasing while sparkling piano punctuates the most satisfying of harmonies. His mastery of atmospheric flourishes is on par with Yves Jarvis, another songwriter who prefers tackling his muses on his own. Both Jarvis and Harding feel like vessels for the profound wisdom of their songs to flow through. The end result is a record that arrives feeling like it has always existed. Little Death is the kind of album that will never get old because no matter how close we get in proximity to one another (whether physically or virtually), isolation and loneliness will always be a possibility. Sitting alone with his emotions, choosing vulnerability over vanity, Jesse Harding has managed the impossible: he crafted one of the year’s finest pandemic records five years in advance.