Album Review: Darlingside – Bird’s Say
Hey let’s not mince words; I really like Darlingside. In fact, when I got the submission, I put a little star beside it with my initials so that I’d remember to personally cover it. It’s exactly the kind of sophisticated folk music that I love. But enough about me, here are four talented musicians who can really compose and sing. Their latest album, Bird’s Say, is a bright contribution to an indie folk landscape that desperately needs their genuine, thoughtful lyrics.
The opening track “The Ancestor” does a great job of highlighting the aesthetically pleasing vocal harmonies of Darlingside, while also showing off the uniquely placed mandolin lines. This is not a bluegrass sounding mandolin, but rather a pure folk feel. The sonic construction is a beautiful thing, creating both feeling of comfort and a sort of momentum.
Speaking of momentum, the following “White Horses” is definitely a fan favorite. The sound keeps moving with placid vocal blending and images of “black water” and “white horses.” There’s both a sense of home as well as adventure throughout the track. It’s intricately put together, including what sounds like an accordion (or an organ?) providing a strong crescendo to the song. It feels like a classic right from the start.
One of the first songs I heard by Darlingside was “Clay and Cast Iron” and just like a gambler’s first big win, I don’t think I’ve found anything in their discography that tops it. The electric guitar highlights overlaid on an acoustic track make for something intricate and delicate. The lead vocal is particularly subtle on this one, making for a sound that is one part 60s innocent rock and another part 21st century folk revival.
Then there’s “Go Back,” the single on this album if there ever was one! My goodness, the harmonies on this one are really outstanding. “But the only to go is to go back… return to who we were before we disappeared… to think of big ideas…” What a beautiful sentiment. We’ve all been in a position where we feel like we’ve moved away from our roots. “You can’t live in the past but the only way to go back.” It’s about staying true to who you are. And maybe I’m wrong about this, but I really think this track is also about place as well. It’s about going back to a home that makes sense.
“My Gal, My Guy” has an interesting beat. It’s a bit more upbeat than other tracks on the album and the lyrics are a tad puzzling. That said, they definitely have a sort of late Beatles flavor to them. Now listen, I don’t throw around the Fab 4 comparison often, but in the case of the complicated compositions on this album, it is indeed warranted. The title track “Birds Say” then calms the album back down. It reminds me of “Blackbird” by the aforementioned Beatles. The song is about listening to bird calls and trying to discern meaning; but it’s also about perception versus reality in connecting with other people. It’s a superb song – and the strings just punctuate what feels like a chamber folk piece.
“The God of Loss” sounds like a hymn and it makes my heart go aflutter. I can’t really explain why, either. It’s something at that “next level.” There seems to be something spiritual about it that speaks to truth and beauty. In short, I love it.
“She’s All Around” is a love song. It even has that little trill sound on the mandolin. (What do you call that, string players?) The backing harmonies are gloriously comforting. It’s the kind of song that you might expect from a folk band, but what they add in layers makes it feel more like atmospheric alt rock of some kind. That said it’s a great track.
“Volcano Sky” has a desperation in the lead vocal that reminds me of Penny and Sparrow. There’s a sweet downtempo feel to the whole track, one of the longest on the album. It continues to build with an almost worshipful sincerity. It leads nicely to the final track, “Good For You,” an anthem of sorts that leads the listener out of the proverbial concert hall and into the great beyond. In church terms, it feels like a benediction. It provides a kind of blessing on the whole listening experience. Although it is a narrative about “comfort in the darkness” it casts a light on new experiences, “I want to be good for you.”
All told, this is a fantastic album. I commented to a friend that it should have been on my 2015 end of year list. It’s got superb work throughout. Songs like “Go Back” and “The God of Loss” are going to be in steady rotation for me for years to come. I am already looking forward to hearing more from Darlingside and hope I can hear them very soon live. Do give them a spin and share with friends.