Here is more of exactly what we love about this band – beautiful harmonies and tunes that make you tingle.

Label: Thirty Tigers
Time: 11 Tracks / 42 mins

Some people might ask why Darlingside bother to open this collection with “Woolgathering,” a 44-second, one-verse track. Surely they could save it until the next release and add a few more minutes while they are waiting?

Well no, actually. I would certainly be happy to see it lasting longer, but it makes a point. It says that this band has more to offer than a factory-produced programme of material. It highlights the importance of their harmonies –these are sounds that do not even need tunes to sound gorgeous. Notes drift and hang in the air, almost chiming as a prelude to the rest. The band intended the pair of pieces to work together, so “Woolgathering” is a dreamy piece and “Crystal Caving” is the dream bursting.

While tunes might sound like a bonus, they are crucial – without them, the harmonies would grow boring. But the question is moot, because the album is full of great tunes.

As they up the speed and tackle “Everything’s Broken,” you become aware of how carefully they arrange the vocals – voices joining in, then holding back, then joining in again, all the time with the right parts in the right places.  It feels like an artist adding extra shading to a face to accentuate light and depth, or an author adding the adjectives that make a character more convincing. And when spaces appear, they might serve to put a spotlight on a simple bass lick that is just what the song needs at that point.

(As I write this, I am watching a pair of red kites sweeping and circling across the sky. An instrumental section of “Everything’s Broken” is a fine backdrop.)

Often it’s the falsettos that make the songs, adding an emotional punch, combined with a superb sense of what chords and progressions are going to be most effective. “February/Stars” is just one case of the chords flowing naturally and drawing the listener forwards.

This album was finished in lockdown, but born in different times. Don Mitchell (vocals, guitar, banjo), Auyon Mukharji (vocals, violin, mandolin), Harris Paseltiner (vocals, cello, guitar) and Dave Senft (vocals, bass) moved into the studio together, jamming in the same room, as they did at the start of their career, bouncing off each other and tweaking the details, like some sonic version of potters turning and moving the clay to form just the shapes they want.  

It’s hard to read meaning into the band’s songs, because they have previously combined song ideas that didn’t necessarily share any meaning. While the process of songwriting changed this time from whittling down ideas to starting with a few then building them up, they still seem to be writing for effect more than meaning. “February/Stars”, for example began as deliberate gibberish lyrics that the men tore up and swapped, then made into more gibberish before trying to find some kind of sense in it. This could be a clue to the several two-part song titles.

There is, however, a definite paean to nature in the imagery, from the height of stars to the depths of the ocean – sometimes in one song.

They famously stand around a single mic live, just decorating the songs with occasional colours – so it is easy to imagine “Ocean Bed” being performed, as it is built on a rhythm of – well, not so much handclaps as hand slaps (although I’m not convinced that these add to the music, rather than distracting).

There is one point (“Mountain + Sea”) where they definitely misjudge the power of sound. At the end, they perform a call-and-response of the title that is some 40 seconds too long and becomes irritating. That aside, the album is beautifully judged.

There are no dramatic developments with this album. Tracks like “See You Change” would fit seamlessly on previous releases. And as it’s this sound that drives their appeal, I can see no complaints there.

Derek Walker