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Darlingside: Everything Is Alive
(Thirty Tigers Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 9/6/2023)
Darlingside formed at Williams College in Massachusetts when the four multi-instrumentalists met in 2009. The members, Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, Harris Paseltiner, and David Senft have diverse musical backgrounds. Don Mitchell did theater as a youth, and studied songwriting in college. Auyon Mukharji’s parents enlisted him in music lessons at an early age, and then he got into songwriting as a teen. Harris Paseltiner is a classically trained cellist, but is one of those musicians who is into playing as many instruments as possible. David Senft was also in school singing groups, and studied songwriting in college. Once in Darlingside, he concentrated on the bass, but had earlier spent some months as a street musician.
They released their first album Birds Say in 2015, and followed it with Extralife in 2018, which we featured on this review series at the time, and the issued one called Fish Pond Fish in 2020, each of which spotlighted the group’s harmony-based sound, with both acoustic and electric instrumentation.
As was the case with so many performing musicians, the pandemic greatly affected the group. In this case, they found themselves working individually. So the on the new album, several of the songs have a clear lead singer, or more of an individual vocal, than the nearly constant four-part harmonies that marked their previous albums. Also, the group is a bit more musically adventurous in terms of the arrangements and song structure. And like their previous albums, the lyrics are poetically vague, though somewhat more upbeat in mood their some of the songs on Extralife.
Opening is one of the more interesting tracks, Green Light which recalls the modal and raga influenced sound of the Beatles in their psychedelic stage. The mostly acoustic instrumentation, including autoharp, is enhanced by some percussive accents. <<>>
Lose the Keys features Harris Paseltiner’s cellos in creating an interesting ambiance, in this song with lyrics about suffering losses. <<>>
A song called Right Friend takes a more electric direction in this song celebrating friendship, or perhaps a deeper relationship. <<>>
More like the material on Darlingside’s previous albums is Eliza I See with the strong four-part harmonies throughout. <<>>
Darkening Hour is a track in which one of the members dominates the vocals, though the credits don’t say which of the members. It’s a sad song about losing someone. <<>>
The most striking piece on the album is How Long Again a mostly a cappella perfornance with dense harmonies, with a distant instrumental ambiance. It’s definitely a highlight. <<>>
A track called Baking Soda is one one of the more electrically instrumented songs, with notably cryptic lyrics. <<>>
The album closes with The Breaking of the Day whose contemplative lyrics are a kind of valedictory. <<>>
Since 2009, the Massachusetts quartet Darlingside had been emphasizing their vocal harmonies with their eclectic folk influenced style. In the wake of the pandemic, the members have been creating music that spotlights each of the members in a lead capacity, though always with the four-part harmonies eventually appearing. The result is wider-ranging, though no less appealing. Their compositions tend to be more musically sophisticated than what one normally expects from folk-influenced music. The group is largely self-contained though a percussionist and trumpet player make guest appearances.
Our grade for sound quality is about an A-minus. The vocals seem to be intentionally mixed to be a bit murky, presumably for a more atmospheric sound. I would be happier with a bit more clarity, though the dynamic range of the recording is better than average.
In a day with so much commercial pop music dominated by rap or synthetic-sounding electronically auto-tuned vocals, there seems to be a bit of a renaissance for groups with real vocal harmonies, occurring under the radar, so to speak. Darlingside’s new album Everything Is Alive is a welcome addition to the genre.
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