Album Review: Darlingside – Extralife

Every once in a while you discover a band that can consistently push the envelope. They’re not changing their sound to be “edgy” or to sell more records, but because they’re being true to their artistry. That’s the vibe I get from Darlingside’s 2018 release Extralife. We covered a song from the album earlier and I’ve had it earmarked for review ever since; here’s what we like about it.

The opening title track begins with the fascinating and unique harmonies that have become Darlingside’s calling card. It’s clear they’re not “just another folk band” with these expressive and intricate layers. The song feels a bit like a thoroughbread at the gates, though, building and building the tension for the door to open and the horse to get off and running.

“Singularity” signals fans to the fact that this album will have a bit of a different sound to it. Incorporating tasteful elements of electronic music does a nice job of complementing the folk core of the band’s sound. The strings on “Singularity” are deeply satisfying. The lyrics, as per usual from Darlingside, are thought provoking and complex. They encourage listeners to contemplate the celestial, belying the often earthiness of folk music. The trumpet part is minimal, but punctuates the track perfectly.

“Hold Your Head Up High” is already on our song of the year candidate list, so perhaps it’s already been covered enough elsewhere. The harmonies on this one are divine. The balance between horns and harmonies make it one of the best songs I’ve heard in years from anyone. To hear it from a still-rising band like Darlingside is stunning. It’s on my personal bucket list to hear this one live some day.

In a jarring transition, Darlingside move to “Eschaton,” a track that features more electronic sounds than any other on the album. In the process, though, the band gives some stunning harmonies that help to make the complex philosophical lyrics go down smooth. What is the end of humanity? What is the “upshot now?” Maybe we’ll never know, but Darlingside make it easier for us to think about it. I’m going to need more to drink, though, for some of these big words.

“Lindisfarne” is another great track. Something about it reminds me of Fleetwood Mac or that era of easy going rock music generally. I could picture some California folksters coming out of the hills with a track like this. It leads nicely to the thoughtful “The Rabbit and the Pointed Gun,” an allegorical song that feels more like folk art than a pure folk song. The intricate phrasing and alternative timing create a deliberate and evocative message.

“Indian Orchard Road” gets a mention here because of the horns and harmonies. Wait… have I said that before? Definitely the calling card of this album and what I love about the band, the horns and harmonies steal the show. The short and sweet “Rita Hayworth” makes me smile just seeing the name. Of course Hayworth was a famous film star early in the 20th century; it’s not a subject you’d expect on this album, but it works.

The final two tracks “Orion” and “The Best of the Best of Times” keep with the experimental vibe of the album. “Orion” is less polished (in an intentional way) than the rest of the album, conjuring comparison with more of a jangly jam band like Phish than some of the other tracks on the album. The final track feels like the “go out strong” kind of anthem track. There are some 70s rock tricks in the dynamics that make it rise with significant power. I hope I get to interview these guys some day and ask about influences because I almost guarantee they have spent some quality time with the top 40 from the 70s like the Eagles and Chicago.

This is a great album that finds itself on the album of the year candidate list for me. The artistry here is truly unique, creating soundscapes that I guarantee you have not heard before. If your gripe about folk is that it “all sounds the same” then you simply have to give Darlingside a spin. They genuinely remind me of the experimentation that Chicago brought to the top 40 back in the 70s. I would love to hear this kind of music making its way into the mainstream. These guys absolutely deserve that level of recognition for their unbelievable and sometimes-indescribable art.

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