Darlingside – Extralife
Thirty Tigers – 23 February 2018
Massachusetts in the winter is the perfect place to lock yourself in a living room next to a roaring fire, and Extralife, the new album by folk quartet Darlingside, is the perfect album to take with you. It’s crackling and warm like a hearth, soft and faint like the crooning of a breeze. But, it’s also an album that undoubtedly drives its own path, led by the earnest ardour of Dave Senft, Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, and Harris Paseltiner. Each time you listen you will hear something new, as this inventive quartet gives us plenty to mull.
In Extralife you may recognize the characteristic roots of the modern folk sound. Inklings of Bon Iver, Lord Huron, and The Lumineers permeate this indie folk album. Extralife doles out low and rich vocal harmonies, humble acoustic guitar, and reverb-a-plenty. But wedged between these genre staples you might find something unexpected — some MIDI video game noises or an infusion of syncopation. It all comes together, with great surprise at times, through the palpable kinship of four keen composers.
The band makes it quite clear that they are Darlingside, not Darlingcide, and it’s easy to see why. They’re lovers, not fighters — four unrelated brothers whose friendship makes the music happen. History has certainly taught us that close friendships make some of the best music (think Lennon and McCartney), but when a band’s sound is forged in fraternity, they are left with the responsibility of creating a connection to make all listeners feel like a part of their brotherhood. To do this, Darlingside attempts to create a sense of place, a tangible mood manifested in hollow, dramatic, room-filling harmonies. Their nouveau “wall of sound” is a vehicle which draws in all those who can’t help but overhear.
Though working within the boundaries of the folk form, Darlingside is musically distinct, crafting a memorable brand of indie alt-folk. They are educated musicians with a sophisticated understanding of songwriting, consequently able to employ unconventional sounds and rhythmic tricks to pique interest in unexpected ways. In their lyrics, Darlingside are wordsmiths in the most literal form, collecting and assembling words into images that reflect the wildest wanderings of their imaginations, even inventing words that exist only in their futuristic, apocalyptic playground. Like fantasy-philes or astrologers, they peel back the layers of dreams with deft lyrical ambiguity. They sing these lyrics with the timbre of a tenor chorus in chant — not just one voice, but a symphony of voices. They sing for the sake of anyone who treasures uncovering meaning in their clouded surroundings.
Extralife is not a protest against musical convention (or convention in any sense), but rather a reimagining of what folk music could be. It’s sharp and self-aware, opening with its own title track, which dares to trick you into thinking you are about to hear a loop-laced electric string ensemble, then sweeps you up in the characteristic touch-tone babble of a 1980s arcade game. It is a charming cacophony of unexpected sounds, through which vocal harmonies emerge to tie the entire album together. “Under the underground / I’ve always found / a level further down.” It’s almost haunting, with echo-drenched lyrics forcing an enigmatic and intriguing storyline: a blend of tantalizingly political imagery that erases the boundary between worlds real and imagined.
The inconspicuous gem of Extralife is “Old Friend,” a brief sojourn into a world of cinematic nostalgia, accentuating Darlingside’s signature vocal harmonies with the refined production they were meant for. The guitar work on this piece is drawn from the book of Simon and Garfunkel. Expert production overlays improvisational woodwinds and guitar and vocals upon vocals, melting like cresting waves. “Old friend, I think of you still sometimes / sure as the oak is bending into the light.” Darlingside could not be Darlingside without inspiration from the expressive natural surroundings of New England and beyond.
Whether looking ahead or looking towards the sky for inspiration, this foursome is bound to handpick the best from what they see. In “Orion” they experiment with interjections of more minimal instrumentation, with little mandolin plucks dotting this song like stars in the constellation it evokes. You may have to listen to this track twice or three times through just so you don’t miss a morsel of these sleek lyrics. “The beach is just a line in the sand / The tide is in the palm of your hand.”
For anyone seeking the soundtrack to driving down a cross-country highway, this isn’t it. It’s more like running through an orchard path or a dusty lane in a country homestead. It’s active. It plays you while you play it. It engages with you like any other part of your surroundings. “Indian Orchard Road” will take you to the countryside by means of effortlessly organic, choppy string orchestrations. And, just as you get invested in this created locale, the song ends abruptly, forfeiting the echo of its overkill reverb and giving way to silence.
Filling its place is the curious “Rita Hayworth” — which, at only fifty seconds long, one might expect to be a brash ode to the film goddess. But, it’s not (exactly). A chorus of vocals drone, “Oh, I want to know what it’s like to be loved like a heartbeat,” before rattling off names of iconic women from 20th-century popular culture. Darlingside is not afraid of playing the eccentric. Extralife entertains, asks questions, and lets the listener provide the answers. If we listen carefully, these are the fifty seconds that remind us that Darlingside is made up of four clever creatives who relish imagining the expressions on the faces of audiences who will ponder these tracks.
It goes without saying, however, that for every listener’s flummoxed eyebrow, they can expect a few solemn grins and a few sentimental sighs, and probably a few curious chuckles as well. In Extralife, Darlingside has crafted something plainly unpredictable. It is evident that this quartet’s cup runneth over not only with musical ability, but with imagination. Like a band of art conservatory schoolboys, they are eager to put their creativity to use. This album is recess for the applied musician. It’s rich with diverse technique, innovations in rhythm and engineering, and plenty of surprises without straying too far from the pop-folk niche or becoming obscure. In Extralife you will uncover a taste of contemporary folk culture with a dash of panache, fuelled by a bond that allows four hard-working musicians to seamlessly fuse their skills, and clearly, to create something that they enjoyed creating. There is something fulfilling about listening to music that feels like it was truly made for the sake of music, and for the devout fan of indie folk, Darlingside has found an engrossing niche.
Darlingside UK Dates – May 2018
May 05-07 – Kilkenny Roots Festival
May 10 – Stereo, Glasgow
May 11 – Night & Day Cafe, Manchester
May 12 – The Cluny, Newcastle
May 13 – The Hubs, Sheffield
They will return for summer festivals and in November, the band’s biggest London show to date:
Thurs 1 Nov – London Shepherd’s Bush Empire
For full tour dates and more information visit: http://www.darlingside.com/