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EXTRALIFE - DARLINGSIDE

LCM ALBUM OF THE MONTH - MARCH 2018

  • Artist: Darlingside
  • Release Date: 23rd February, 2018
  • Genre: Folk, Americana
  • Record Label: More Doug Records
  • Tracks: 12
  • Website: http://www.darlingside.com/
  • Review By: Gary Smith (LCM)

Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts the excellent Darlingside have made a huge impact in the UK Folk and Americana scene. With an main stage performance at the Cambridge Folk Festival, an outstanding sell-out performance at London's Union Chapel followed by an intimate gig at The Courtyard Theatre and a showcase spot at the recent AMA UK conference, the band are going from strength to strength. Their last album 'Bird Say' released in 2015 certainly had the wow! factor. Their highly anticipated new album 'Extralife' certainly don't disappoint either. It has all the trademark qualities of the last album with super tight harmonies, super inventive and creative songwriting, wonderful arrangements and musicianship, but this time it has an additional electronic element. This perfectly fits the tone and central themes of 'Extralife', the pre-apocalyptic end of the world. But rather than offering death and destruction, it offers self examination, hope and possible redemption. 

'Extralife' pops and crackles like a roaring fire on a winter's day. It is an album that forges its own unique path, led by the highly creative forces of Dave SenftDon MitchellAuyon Mukharji, and Harris Paseltiner. It is also an album which keeps on giving. Each time you listen you will discover something new, almost like turning a precious diamond to a new facet. It is a cerebral collection of music, which asks questions of the listener and provokes discussion.

The album opens with the title track 'Extralife'. It's introduction feels like being inside a 80's computer game, before launching into the band's trademark super rich harmonies. It begins with the phrase, 'It’s over now........The flag is sunk', which makes it sound like we are living on borrowed time. In view of current world events we need to ask questions of ourselves and our governments, before 'mushroom clouds reset the sky.' I love the lryics in the second verse too 'In the only game I ever played, I am the ageless one. Another hunted bird. An arcade word. A living machine love. There must be something i've lost sight of.....Extralife.' Just like a computer game, do we have a second chance to reset....to gain that extra life? With a flavour of Simon & Garfunkel 'Singularity' gives the warm encouragement that individually we can difference. It begins and ends with a Septavox which gives a 80's video game feel to the album. It continues the themes of pre-apocalyptic Extralife "Someday a shooting star is gonna shoot me down. Burn these high rises back into a ghost town of iridium-white clouds. Matted close against the ground. While the sky hangs empty as a frame!' With a great video themed around time-travel the anthemic, the beautifully written 'Futures' offers the sage advise that 'it's not ever too late!' The future dawning of the day. It's never here and never goes away". The song has a great ear-worm of a chorus, which marks it out as a future favourite at their album release shows.

Another beautifully written track is 'Hold Your Head Up High' with it's soft strummed acoustic guitar, accordion and added brass motifs "How it rambles 'round the moon. A let-go-of balloon. Nothing is forever, everything is soon. And my father as he stands A perfect cartoon man. Heavy-sighed and open-eyed, I heard him speak. See that humankind is you. Like all the rest, down to the scratches on the album that you're singing to.'  The word 'Eschaton' carries the idea of the period of time immediately preceding the end of the world' “No matter what we’ve been....We are the upshot now. Time, they all know the time and what we used to be. Signs, look at the signs. Tell me what you believe". It suggests that we forget past nostalgia and focus on the present. Making the most of it while we still can, all the while trying to make a positive difference. The track has a very interesting blend of electronic music and underlying string arrangements.

One of the hidden gems of Extralife is the tender and nostalgic “Old Friend,” perfectly showcasing Darlingside’s signature harmonies and arrangements. Expert production overlays soothing woodwind, guitar and vocals into a cinematic soundscape. “Old friend, I think of you still sometimes. Sure as the oak is bending into the light.” 'Lindisfarne' has beautiful string arrangements and soaring Beach Boys choir-like celestial harmonies. There are two short but perfectly formed tracks on the album. The first at just under 1 min and 20 seconds is the acoustic guitar led 'The Rabbit & The Pointed Gun'. It has a very interesting and rich arrangement 'Hide away. The storms about to break. All of the branches shake and the tremor calls and the tide comes awake. Fair enough. It took me by surprise. Just like the sun in my eyes and I falter on the step before the lake' This flow seamlessly into the brass introduction of 'Indian Orchard Road' which will take you along a journey into the countryside by means of hypnotic choppy string arrangements, fuzzy electric guitar and soaring vocals. 

The second short song on the album coming in at just 51 seconds is the interesting 'Rita Hayworth'. 'Crash course. American dark horse. Starfire Red® in a colourless sea. Check mate in contestible mandate. Oh I wanna know what it's like to be loved.  Like a heart beat. Coco Chanel, Rita Hayworth, Mae West,  Elizabeth Taylor.' 'Starfire Red' if you are wondering are incredibly bright and vivid fish that add bold colour to aquariums. With that in mind this song will get you thinking. Is it looking at modern day America and comparing it with the bright and brilliant icons of the past? We head to Santa Fe, New Mexico for the start of Darlingside's next track 'Orion'. This time looking towards the sky and stars for inspiration. Soft mandolin plucks accenting the song like the myriad stars in the heavens. "The paint is peeling off of a dream. Pool is draining into the sea. Tomorrow is beginning to take an equal and an opposite shape. Beach is just a line in the sand. The tide is in the palm of your hand. It's looking like a star over you. Either way the end is around the bend". I love the rich and atmospheric lyrics in the song.

The album concludes with the reflective 'Best Of The Best of Times' "When the world speaks it rattles through me like an antique or maybe it rings like an old bell. Wishing us some kinda farewell. A weight in the window, a beacon the batten down. End of the season. Lullaby blue. It is two doves trying to eat out of summer and chewing their words. We are a long way, long way from the best of the best of times.......And I wonder whether our days are unnumbered. If one is the same an another. Whether we mistook the colours for the real thing"

In Extralife you will discover a wonderful slice of contemporary folk culture with a huge helping of flair and panache. Created by a musical 'band of brothers', all very talented in their own right coming together to create a piece of magic. Something that they clearly all enjoy immensely. The very unique Darlingside have found their signature and highly engrossing sound and the world is a much better and richer place because of it. Highly recommended.

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