TRACK REVIEW: Darlingside - Old Friend  





Old Friend





Old Friend is available via:


Indie; Folk


Massachusetts, U.S.A.


The album, Extralife, is available here:


23rd February, 2018


More Doug/Thirty Tigers


IT has been a while since I have featured…


a band on this area of the blog. I will talk about Darlingside very soon but, before then, a few points that seem relevant to them. They have a great and memorable name; a brilliant portfolio and a connection that seems to lift their music to the masses. They are an Indie/Folk band – which makes me think about the genres and what is happening on that side of music. I also want to look at Boston and Massachusetts-made music; how a new album can elevate spirits and take an artist to new heights. I will talk about the band market in general and, to end, a bit about U.K./U.S. bonds and how an international fanbase is vital at this time. I also want to look at song influence but, before I get there; I will speak about the way Darlingside operate and promote their music. I have used a few images in this piece – from the past couple of years – but it seems the band is due another photoshoot. That is not a shot at them – ironically – but a declaration of intent. They have a great look and bond; they are a wonderful group that has been around for a little while now. The guys have some biography out there and one can investigate who they are and where they came from. Their official website is great and they have tour dates up and all the latest releases. I will look at their new album, Extralife, soon but, right now, a chat about websites and social media spread. I have grown a bit weary regards artists who do not put a lot online and neglect that side of things. It is important getting the music nailed and out there but, in this day and age, imagery and looks are crucial. It is part of the machinery and shows the full range and look of an artist. If you have little information or few photos; it is not going to look good for those who want to know more.

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I have seen plenty of acts who do consider everything but, as the market gets more competitive and busy; no artist has an excuse for neglecting any side of music. You need to be aware of what is happening and what the market needs. I feel bands like Darlingside are setting an example others should follow. Even though a post-album photoshoot would get them some more requests and coverage: they are pretty solid right now and have a great outlay. Every new fan can see what drives them and where their music came from; where they want to go and what drives them. Music is not only about listening and digesting music. The modern musician is a complete package and, because of that, every angle needs to be considered. As I said; I have seen too many artists who overlook the simple aspects of their online visibility. I will move on from this part but, before then, a nod to Darlingside and how they work. They have considered their social media channels and making their music as prominent as they can. There are great photos and snippets; one is informed of their every move and, for those who want to follow them long-term; they ensure there is an ample package out there. This is becoming rare: so many new artists feel music alone is good enough. I long for artists who think about every aspect and have that professional look. The band intrigues me for all sorts of other reasons. Their name is compelling and, almost, poetic; their sound incredible and tight – which I shall talk about – and their motivation and ambition incredible. All of this comes to the fore when you follow their plight online. I have followed them on social media and I am always stunned by their passion and openness. It is a great thing to see at a time when so many are ignoring simple considerations like this.


Their sound, though, is quite hard to define. It mixes in Folk and Indie but, in reality, it lacks the overall softness and stillness of Folk: there is not the simplicity of Indie and a sound that aims for anything commercial. The guys have been playing a long time and seen their music evolve and mutate. I have not heard anything quite like them: nobody out on the scene has the same mannerisms and motivation as they do. I have looked at other genres over the past few months. It has been a while since I have come to Folk and examined its many angles. Darlingside, one imagines, would have been raised on classic artists - supplementing that with the best modern artists around. Their blend of Folk is Alternative and modernised. It splices in other genres and does not keep it simple and predictable. I will discuss bands and why a certain T.V. show over here is due a revival. Before then; an examination of Darlingside’s unique fusions. There are many artists out there trying to put Folk together with other styles – the results are mixed. I am a bit saddened there are few who manage to concoct a perfect blend. I know my standards are high but, surely, there are artists out there capable of fusing the pureness of Folk with something exciting and new. First Aid Kit are one act that spring to mind: sumptuous vocals and rousing songs. I have a lot of faith and belief in Darlingside. Their album bursts with spirit, diversity and sensations. The songwriting is deep and their personalities come to the fore.  Whilst the subject matter christens areas like relationships and personal moments; the music is never plodding and routine. The band go a step further and push boundaries. Maybe Folk purists say (Darlingside) are too adventurous and wide-ranging to call themselves Folk artists: Indie acolytes feel the U.S. band are a little too pastoral in places.


What amazes me about the band is their connection and songwriting creativity. Choruses and verses spring from the page; the performances are consistently exceptional and the lyrics get right into the head. Their playing is excellent and the entire experience is one of education and amazement. I have not heard many bands that do things the same way as them. It is great hearing them on the scene; producing fantastic music that takes away the stresses and strains of modern life but makes one think and reflect. It is the harmonies that have been getting the critics fired-up. I have mentioned the vocals of First Aid Kit: Darlingside provide a male take that is no less beautiful and entrancing. The band is not content to sit still and repeat what they did at the start of their careers. Many get tempted to stick with a popular format or become too commercial. It is always sad seeing bands who stray from something authentic and sell their souls a bit. Darlingside have gained popularity but have not, on Extralife, stepped into the ordinary and obvious. Many still look down their noses at Folk and feel it is a lame and limited genre. We all get images of those older artists who strum and talk about the natural world. I have addressed this topic but the point remains: do we have a good view and understanding of Folk’s depths and complexities? I feel many are still naïve and shallow regarding the genre. In my view, we should all give more oxygen and attention to a wonderful form of music that is capable of seduction and incredible fire. Listen to Darlingside and you get immense beauty and sensational emotions bristling and conflicting in every song. I will pass on to new areas soon but, when hearing the band; I am compelled to look at Folk closely and how it has progressed through the decades.

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PHOTO CREDIT: Lithophyte Photography/Vivian Wang

It has been a while since a U.S. band have been on the reviewing pages of my blog. I investigate American music a lot but, for the most part, it is interviews that come my way. I get to look at L.A. artists but, for the life of me, I cannot remember when a band in the Massachusetts area came to my ears. We all think of the state and gravitate towards Boston. Now, we see America and still stick rigidly to areas like Los Angeles, New York and Nashville – Texas might come to mind for some. These might be the most popular and fastest-growing areas for great music: how about those lesser-represented states that are producing fantastic music all of the time?! I feel Massachusetts is a part of the U.S. that has always held sway and influence. The Lemonheads, Pixies and Aerosmith all hail from Boston – The Breeders and The Cars are from there, too. It is a fantastic city but, when thinking about the state in 2018; there are a lot of great up-and-coming artists. I still think as Massachusetts as a band-heavy area these days: there seem to be fewer solo artists and other formations that stick out. Great acts like Nemes, The Drax and Speedy Ortiz are fantastic bands playing in the state right now. It is a shame the mainstream does not pay more attention to state away from the obvious. I know there are fantastic things happening in Massachusetts and Boston. Darlingside is a band that does not try to emulate anyone else but, at the same time, feed from all the colour and diversity in the state. They are attuned to the beat of Massachusetts but dip back into the annals of music and splice things together. I wonder whether, in years to come, they will remain in the state and continue to make music there. They are settled right now but, as the media still focuses on the bigger parts of America – is that driving bands away from home? I feel the band will progress and shift to somewhere like New York in years to come. It is a mighty trek but, as they become bigger; perhaps that desire for bigger things will get them moving. Massachusetts is a wonderful state for music but one that is under-viewed by big sources.


There is a lot of excitement and hype in the Darlingside camp right now. Their new album, Extralife, has been released and is already gaining positive reviews. Fans and followers have been eager to dig into it and see what all the fuss is about. It is a dependably solid and effusive combination of songs and sights that marks the band out as one of the best around. I have listened to the whole album but felt it best to focus on a single song – I would not be able to give every song proper depth and investigation. What I found – when listening to their record – is the way they have progressed and how confident they sound. There is excitement, energy and purpose in the ranks. That suggests Darlingside were lacklustre before: a new album always gets artists moved and pumped. The Darlingside boys have been promoting their album and excitedly sharing songs/reviews with fans. They are definitely amped and it is all with good reason: the latest record from the band is the best thing they have done. Many are dubious whether bands still hold sway and can appeal to people on a base level. We have some terrific bands around but the market is dominated by solo artists. I am not sure whether things will change in the next few years. It seems people demand band and proper examples – how many original and promising bands can you name at the top of your head?! I can name a few but, when I think about it; the solo artists are the ones that stay in the mind. Darlingside are among a rare breed that manages to summon huge quality and longevity. I know they have been around for a while but, looking ahead, I feel Darlingside can endure for many more years. They are able to project something swelling and epic but keep things intimate.


One of the problems with bands is that commercial aspect. Those who wield guitars and want to craft something immense often struggle to break from the formulaic and obvious. I hear too many bands repeating what is out there or, if they are unique, they get overlooked and struggle for acclaim. That might signal deeper issues in music but, thinking closely; can we really afford to let great bands slip underneath the radar?! I feel music is lopsided now; to the extent where solo artists are getting the majority of the pie. Aside from the rather wooden and forgettable bands; there are a lot out there who get in the head and deserve bigger shoes. Darlingside are fresh and have managed to captivate fans on both sides of the ocean. I was alluding to a T.V. show that has made a (one-off) return to British screens. The Old Grey Whistle Test came back last night and, with it, showcased archive footage and some great performances. Years ago; the show was a much-watch for those who wanted to see the best new bands perform in a rather modest and honest space. The performances were always urgent, memorable and special. You could tune into the programme and watch brilliant performances and a magazine-style show that differed from everything out there. There are few modern options that rival the magic and brilliance of The Old Grey Whistle Test. We have music shows but, in my opinion, there is nothing that rivals the bygone show. I am among a group of people who want the show to return on a permanent basis. The reason for this is to bring back the art of sparse and raw performance. So many artists go on radio and we do not see anything real or unpredictable. If they are on T.V.; the set is rather garish and everything is carefully planned. I want the return of a scrappy and wonderful show that has gone down in history.

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The reason I mention this in this review is the fact Darlingside could perform on the show. Last night, on BBC Four; the performances were largely acoustic-based and tender. There were some brasher moments – mainly from the archives – but the show was focused on calmer and more personal outpouring. I would love to see Darlingside grace a show like The Old Grey Whistle Test and bring their music to the screen. Extralife is an album that could benefit from T.V. airing. The band has followed up their debut, Birds Say, and capitalised on a popularity rise in the U.K. The band has come from America and performed on big stages and Folk festivals. They have played Glastonbury and up in Cambridge; played in London and, at the end of last month; they performed a sold-out show at London’s Courtyard Theatre. The band use the new album to explore religious schisms and daunting themes; a look at a world falling apart and people who are struggling to make sense of things. The guys ask whether anything we do will make a real impact. That sounds rather bleak but, at a time when we need bands/artists to address what is happening in the world; this seems like an album that will answer a lot of questions. It is compelling diving into the music and finding beauty and optimism mix with bleak and tortured themes. Darlingside have grown since their debut and are pushing their music in new directions. They fuse Baroque-Folk with Indie and riparian sounds. They have been compared with The Beach Boys and Fleet Foxes; their charm and special bond has been noted by fans and critics – the group are definitely ones to keep your eyes on. It is hard, if you live away from the U.K. or America to get attention in the other nation. We have a lot of great British acts who struggle to get America listening: few of our critics go beyond the home-grown and represent U.S. forces.


It is, therefore, all the better Darlingside seem to have a natural home here. We have always loved great Folk and, with festivals set-up to promote the best around; it is no wonder the band were invited here and done so well. Establishing that important bond will see them coming back here quite a lot. I am not sure whether they are back in the U.S. or basing themselves back here at the moment. I assume they are back home but I have been thinking whether a U.K. move would be right for them. It is clear they have fans here and garnered great respect from festivals and critics. It would be great to see the guys over here and get them here on a permanent basis. Maybe that is years down the line but, right now, they are revelling in a sea of fondness and appreciation. Extralife is an exquisite collection of songs that will see them go very far in the industry. I will stick by them and follow them every step of the way. I will move onto Old Friend in a bit but I wanted to end this section by commending the guys on their rise and how they have been taken to the heart. I know they will be touring heavily this year – let’s hope they come to the U.K. and do some more dates over this way.


Old Friend has been online for a few months but is one of the standouts from Extralife. The strings come in fast and flowing. They trickle and stream - and the listener is enveloped in a world of calm and beauty. Other songs on the L.P. are sparser and more direct: here, there is an emphasis on beauty and fullness. From the first moments; you imagine scenes unfolding and swim in the warm waters. There is sunshine and moonlight conspiring with one another. I was helpless to refute the calm and tenderness of the song. There is definite passion and intention in the strings. You never feel like it is a lazy set-up or there to simply score the vocals. The guitars are essential and carry so much weight and glory. I was helpless to resist their immense power and potency. I was reminded of Nick Drake and his early work. There was the same sort of panache and wonder one would get from listening to Drake. The harmonies come in and it seems the song’s subject is remembered and in the mind. The oak bends into the night and there is talk of compromise. One can imagine scenarios and whether there is a literal person being assessed. I was thinking about a state of mind or state of the world that had gone by and was being remembered. It is hard to overlook the vocals and focus on the lyrics – the effect the voices have on the soul is immediate and strong. I listened to the song and thought whether a companion and trusted friend was key to the song; maybe there is metaphor being employed to address the world and how it is changing. Nature and the natural world play a part; at every turn, you feel like you’re out in the open air and walking alongside the band. The production is incredible and allows every note to reign and shine – without things being too polished and refined.


It is one of the less word-heavy and lyrical tracks on the album: the song relies on beautiful instrumentation and creating visuals with composition. Graceful, sweet horns mix with the more stringent strings; they gracefully converse and take the song in different directions. It is almost like listening to classic Folk artists at their very peak. The notes all seem so natural and pure; you never get the feeling the band has had to sweat and labour over the song. That might sound like a bad thing but, listening to Old Friend unfold; you find a band who open their arms and minds to their listeners. The composition is such a fantastic and nuanced thing. I had to listen to the song several times before all the embers and ideas sunk in and did their work. It is such a heady and rousing brew for the listener to comprehend. It is that tagline and chorus that gets to me: what are the guys tackling and mentioning when they sing the song’s title?! One could hear the composition and think a friendship is being talked about – all the complexities and how faith and commitment are playing alongside one another. The river bends and the wind breezes; one feels the spirit rise and questions come to mind. The listener is helpless to resist the insistence of the music – it gets into every nook and fills the brain with something truly wondrous. By the end of the song; you dive back in and are keen to reinvestigate the song. Old Friend is a typical example of how assured and talented Darlingside are. There are other songs that match Old Friend in terms of beauty: none have the same spine-tingling potency, in my view. Other numbers look more deeply at the world and have that unsettled heart. Here, as we hear; there is something more comforting and calm working in the heart. A marvellous song from a band that gets stronger with every new release! Let’s hope this album gets all the respect and acclaim it deserves – early reviews suggest critics are involved and responding to every single note!


I think Darlingside are coming back here in May and will take in the likes of Manchester and London. At the moment; the guys are preparing to take their latest record around the U.S. From California to Tennessee; Darlingside are going to cover a lot of ground and will see thousands of faces. It is just as well they have released a stunning album to keep the fans entertained. They have armed themselves with stunning new songs and produced something truly sensational in Extralife. I am pleased I have discovered the U.S. band and have looked back at their catalogue. It is amazing to see how they have come on and how confident they are now. They always were but, as time has progressed; new elements have come into their music – the guys are determined to make their mark on music! I will end things in a bit but, before then, would recommend everyone gets involved with Darlingside and seek out their new album. It is a relevant and contemporary collection of songs that frame those incredible voices and make the listener consider the world around them. That can be quite a challenge at a time when many of us are looking for escapism and something more light-hearted. You will not get dragged down or depressed when listening to Extralife. The album has positivity and wants to lift the listener and challenge their way of thinking. I will leave it here but, as I do, the notes and embers of Darlingside resound in the mind. A fantastic U.S. band that is a big name here and, as they tour this year, will reach new fans and areas. I am glad the boys are on a rise and getting great reviews. It is a sign that Folk – modern and classic mixing – has a voice in modern music and shows bands still have…


PLENTY of life left in them.  


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