Darlingside, ‘Birds Say’
Can something live comfortably in the traditions of the past, yet fully and eagerly embrace the ideals of the present at the same time? In a word: yes. And the latest recording from the Massachusetts-based band Darlingside proves it.
There are a handful of words that instantly come to mind when thinking about this quartet. Friendship, tradition, intimacy, respect, collaboration – eclectic words that work well together to describe the kind of music these guys make. And they are guys, too – four friends who’ve known each other for more than a decade. The quartet (Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft) met when they were all students at Williams College and they very quickly realized their combination of vocal ranges, musical ability and creative writing was compelling, to say the least.
Right from the get go, it’s pretty clear to anyone who listens that Darlingside has a deep respect for the folk rock traditions of the 1960s and 1970s. At certain moments (“Go Back,” “The Ancestor”), you might almost imagine you’re listening to a contemporary of the Byrds, or Simon and Garfunkel, or the Beach Boys. Darlingside’s harmonies are lush and lovely (and sometimes unexpected – in a good way), and the percussion-lite music they make with their guitars and cellos and banjos and fiddles and mandolins is rhythm driven and serves as the perfect frame for these four impeccably suited voices.
That Darlingside respects the traditions of the past is clear. And yet, this is a band that’s also firmly fixed in today’s contemporary music scene, deftly using different loop and electronic effects throughout the album – check out “Do You Live?,” and, to even greater effect, “Volcano Sky.” What’s especially effective about ‘Birds Say’ is how seamless the whole thing sounds – the quartet dips back and forth between past and present easily – nothing sounds out of place, nothing sounds strange, everything flows together…and yet, surprises (an imaginary sword fight with a famous actor’s doppelganger, for example, in “Harrison Ford”) abound.
If you listen to just one song on this album, make it “White Horses.” This is perhaps Darlingside’s most obvious tribute to the folk-rock bands of the 1960s and it serves to remind us WHY those bands left such a lingering impression. There’s something almost magical about the chord progressions, the gentle melding of banjo and guitar and the drone of the fiddle – not to mention the swell of the band’s harmonies – that make “White Horses” the kind of song that reaches out and punches you in the heart. The lyrics drip with yearning and the whole thing serves as a reminder that our past always, somehow, effects our present. Another standout is “God of Loss.” Again, in the same vein as “White Horses,” the narrator looks back at the influences – some good, some bad – that shaped him into the person he is today.
Truthfully, there’s something positive to be said about every track on ‘Birds Say.’ It’s a compelling album, filled with evocative lyrics and top-notch musicianship…the kind of album that’ll make anyone who hears it sit up and say, “Who IS Darlingside and when can I hear them again?”