Serene and subtly haunting, the latest from The Hardy Tree takes a twilight stroll through empty streets and abandoned shops, capturing a portrait of a neighbourhood in the midst of the pandemic. Castle, the force behind the excellent Clay Pipe Records as well as an acclaimed illustrator and musician, would spend her days walking the mostly empty streets and her evenings writing and recording the music that would become Common Grounds. The draft recordings would become the soundtrack to the next walk, which would inspire the next round of composition, an ongoing dialogue of place, sound, and movement.
Ambient-leaning music can sometimes feel academic, lost in its own head. That’s not the case here. The conversational approach to Common Grounds‘ composition has lead to an album that feels embodied, anchored in movement and place. The songs have the leisurely pace of an aimless walk, open-minded and observant. The mellotron and synth textures are comforting but uneasy, expertly capturing the eerie beauty of spaces that are empty by circumstance rather than choice. That ambiguity disappears for album closer “Up on the Hill,” its triumphant strings and swelling drums seemingly a sign of life returning to the world—a grand way to end an album that’s otherwise defined by smaller moments.