Natural Darkness represents a significant milestone in the musical journey of vocalist/composer Madil Hardis. For those familiar with her work as the voice behind Ashbury Heights’ “Wild Eyes” and “A Cut in a Place,” this full-length album immediately exudes a sense of grandeur, and it’s “Absence” that sets the stage and defines the album’s overall tone.
From the very start, this album immerses the listener in a world of ethereal soundscapes. Trippy pads craft intricate auditory landscapes, providing the perfect canvas for Hardis to unleash her rich choral timbres. One can’t help but draw comparisons to the captivating soundscapes that the likes of William Orbit would undoubtedly appreciate. “To the Heart” introduces a palpable tension, beautifully articulated in the lines “a life we never lived, a life we never shared.” Later in the album, “Bye Bye to the Heart” not only sees Ashbury Heights engaging in a collaborative exchange, but also transforms the earlier melancholic tone into a bittersweet symphony thanks to their solid synthpop sensibilities.
“Misty Days” evokes the atmosphere of a rainy weekday afternoon in London, Hardis’ city of residence. With a rich melancholy in both the piano and vocal melody, this track captures a distinct mood that is then met conversely by “Disintegrate,” which takes the listener in discordant directions, offering a unique and captivating auditory experience. Travelling deeper into the vulnerability of Hardi’ performance is “Burning Fire,” a compelling track that delves even deeper as the listener is treated to a raw and emotionally charged vocal delivery that lays bare a heartbreak. In contrast, “Distance” serves as a contemplative and introspective closing to the solo tracks of the album. The vocal melodies and delightful harmonies carry a sense of hope and reflection, providing a turn from the emotional intensity of “Burning Fire.”
The Vortex Four Remix of “Natural Darkness” introduces a darkwave vibe that sparks curiosity about the boundless potential of Hardis’ dynamic and versatile voice. Meanwhile, the cello version featuring Michael Hyman amplifies the song’s inherent sorrow.
The remixes of “Absence” each bring something distinct to the table. The Wandering Stars remix infuses trippy vocal effects, while the Béreche You take transforms the track into a big, stomping affair. For synthpop enthusiasts, Electro Spectre’s contribution is a highlight that’s sure to please.
Each track on Natural Darkness is a profound journey, both an exhalation and an exploration that feels both deeply personal and universally relatable. There are moments of solace and introspection intertwined with an offering to the listener, making this album a truly mind-stirring and reflective experience.