Darlingside – Birds Say (ALBUM REVIEW)

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darlingsidelpJust when you thought that all the alt-folk bands had settled into a similar and comfortable sound, along comes Darlingside to shake things up. Birds Say is the band’s second full-length release and it is built around the quartet’s gorgeous vocals and innovative use of string instruments. On the 13 tracks here Darlingside continues to expand its adventurous approach toward music making, merging traditional music, classical arrangements, and even a touch of  indie rock.

The members of Darlingside – bassist Dave Senft, guitarist and banjo player Don Mitchell, classical violinist and mandolin player Auyon Mukharji, and cellist and guitarist Harris Paseltiner – first met when they were students at Williams College in Massachusetts. The band released its first full-length album, Pilot Machines, in 2012. Last year they teamed up with singer-songwriter Heather Maloney and followed up with the EP Woodstock.

Fans of  Pilot Machines will notice the group have made some changes: they no longer have a drummer, which means the use of percussion on “Birds Say” is kept to a minimum and where the group’s previous work was built around a single vocalist their clear, high vocals are now joined together. The result, especially on songs like the title track, is quite stunning. That’s right – there is no front man in this band, and when they perform all four members sing into one microphone. And it is more than their combined voices that the group blend together as the band write their songs collectively, each member contributing to their compositions.

You can hear a strong 1960s influence on some of this material including “Do You Ever Live?,” a song  that begins with piano introduction than follows with the kind of lush harmonies that we haven’t heard since the Beach Boys ruled the radio waves.  The song even has a slightly psychedelic feels as does “Volcano Sky.” Another standout is “Harrison Ford,” which isn’t actually about the actor but is about attending a meeting with a man that looks like Harrison Ford. Darlingside gets to show off their sense of humor on this off-kilter pop song that builds around an odd percussive tape loop and also features frantic banjo, some subtle piano and a brief cello interlude.

“Yes we will leave here without a trace/Take a new name and an old shape/But I’ll be no outlaw, no renegade/Just your faithful god of loss,” sings the band on “The God of Loss,”  an airy atmospheric song that benefits from Mukharji’s mournful violin.  This song, like the instantly hummable “Go Back,” deal with the need to look back before moving forward, a theme that obviously resonates with these young musicians. And as they have proven with “Birds Say,” Darlingside is a band clearly interested in moving its sound forward.  They have crafted a collection of songs that you’ll find yourself going back to again and again, discovering something new with each listen.

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