And In The Darkness, Hearts Aglow
Anyone encountering the gorgeous, ’70s-style orchestral pop of And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow might be surprised to learn that Natalie Mering started her journey as an experimental-noise musician. Listen closer, though, and you’ll hear an album whose beauty isn’t just tempered by visions of almost apocalyptic despair, but one that also turns beauty itself into a kind of weapon against the deadness and cynicism of modern life. After all, what could be more rebellious in 2022 than being as relentlessly and unapologetically beautiful as possible? Stylistically, the album draws influence from the gold-toned sounds of California artists like Harry Nilsson, Judee Sill, and even the Carpenters. Its mood evokes the strange mix of cheerfulness and violent intimations that makes late-’60s Los Angeles so captivating to the cultural imagination. And like, say, The Beach Boys circa Pet Sounds or Smiley Smile, the sophistication of Mering’s arrangements—the mix of strings, synthesizer touches, soft-focus ambience, and bone-dry intimacy—is more evocative of childhood innocence than adult mastery. Where her 2019 breakthrough, Titanic Rising, emphasized doom, Hearts Aglow—the second installment of a stated trilogy—emphasizes hope. She writes about alienation in a way that feels both compassionate and angst-free (“It’s Not Just Me, It’s Everybody”), and of romance so total, it could make you as sick as a faceful of roses (“Hearts Aglow,” “Grapevine”). And when the hard times come, she prays not for thicker armor, but to be made so soft that the next touch might crush her completely (“God Turn Me Into a Flower”). All told, And in the Darkness, Hearts Aglow is the feather that knocks you over.