Darlingside: Extralife

Videos by American Songwriter

More Doug/Thirty Tigers
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The four guys of Darlingside write lyrics. They also play instruments. But that’s not what you’ll notice about them.

Rather it’s the quartet’s exquisite harmonies, so immaculately crafted, arranged and performed, that nearly everything else about the group’s alt-folk — emphasis on folk — is secondary.

The band’s blueprint of lush, luxurious vocals, mostly percussion-free pastoral calm and general dreaminess was established, after a few warm-up releases, on 2015’s sumptuous Birds Say. Its 2017 follow-up doubles down on that successful design, further spotlighting their uncanny singing abilities. Unabashed obvious influences from early Simon & Garfunkel, the Everly Brothers and the Beach Boys still reign supreme but the foursome stretch their boundaries to include ghostly classical chorale echoes, too, as in the lovely, floating “Lindisfarne.”

Softly strummed guitars, cello, violin, bass and even the occasional synthesizer provide the predominantly acoustic musical backing to honeyed, moving and impeccably crafted tunes that seem to be delivered from the heavens. Conceptually obtuse songs supposedly coalesce around a notion described by a band member as “… a life beyond where we are now …” If that sounds vague, mystifying lyrics such as “Sink into the infinite time/ Trace it to the belt of Orion/ And elbow out into the unknown/ Everything in motion’s a domino” don’t help. Better to just let the sounds wash over you, appreciate the delicate voices waltzing around each other in two-, three- and four-part harmony, enjoy the intertwining instruments, and worry about untangling what it’s all about when they sing, “Starfree extra-dimensional/ superconductor up in the sky” later, if at all.

But less poetic, more grounded words wouldn’t suit Darlingside’s unabashedly beautiful and enticing approach. The laconic trumpet that opens “Indian Orchard Road” blends into softly throbbing strings over which a lead voice with the sweetness of Carl Wilson leads us through nearly five minutes of the most lavish and unusual music you’ll hear this year. Darlingside is an act that has latched onto a unique sound and rides it for 40 glorious minutes on the gorgeous and confident Extralife.

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