Review: Darlingside’s Alt-Folk Shimmers On ‘Everything Is Alive’

Darlingside
Everything is Alive
(Thirty Tigers)
3 1/2 out of 5 stars

Videos by American Songwriter

Some albums are made for cranking the volume to 10 and annoying the neighbors. Others call for solitude and the insulation of headphones, encouraging listeners to focus on absorbing lyrics, intricate song arrangements and layered instrumentation. Darlingside’s music demands the latter.

Little has changed in the quartet’s sound on release number five. As with 2020s Fish Pond Fish, the outfit recorded their parts remotely. It’s another product and example of both the maturation of technology and a remnant of the pandemic. Veteran producer Tucker Martine mixed those separate musical slices (the band is noted as “producer”) created at home in at least three different states, into a cohesive set that appears as if the members are together in a single studio. It’s a remarkable sonic accomplishment, especially as the complex vocal harmonies dovetail into one shimmering whole on the majority of these songs.

Darlingside’s somewhat quirky indie folk remains spare, delicate, sophisticated and opulent. Lyrics are frustratingly not printed in the physical package but generally describe losses of love and direction as the solemn voices and gentle backing float and intertwine. On “Baking Soda” they sing Way back when, whenever we opened the taps/Waterfalls fell into all of our laps/Now it’s old baking soda, oh what will I do/But dig up trays of forgotten and cloudy ice cubes which seems to be a metaphor for a collapsing relationship..or maybe not. On “Sea Dogs” the lyrics of I can’t wake up all the time/or even half the time or/even be on time are as inscrutable as the track’s title.

Like the sometimes murky if intriguingly poetic ideas, the laid back melodies and sparse, mostly acoustic accompaniment winds, weaves and swirls around the listener. Piano, acoustic guitar, hushed percussion and the occasional horn lay down a groove that stays modest and unassuming but sweetly intoxicating over the course of these dozen pensive tunes. Headphones accentuate that effect, making the often subtle backing and especially the dovetailing vocals more striking.  

Perhaps to highlight Darlingside’s collaborative nature, the songs are credited jointly to the group. While that creates a unified democratic approach, it’s a little frustrating to omit details of who plays and composed what.

The album is most effective when absorbing it all at once. Independently, the selections seldom reach out to grab you. But the sumptuous vibe and often enigmatic concepts combine for another distinctive offering from one of contemporary folk music’s most provocative acts. 

Courtesy All Eyes Media

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