Album Review: Darlingside – Fish Pond Fish

Darlingside’s new album arrives at the perfect time.  As society begins to have hope for a return to normalcy, emerging from our imposed isolation to tentatively socialize and meet others, Fish Pond Fish encourages the listener to perhaps make a first stop in the natural world of blossoming flowers, flowing breezes, deep cold oceans, and dark old wood forests.  Within each track is a scene formed through their delicate instrumental arrangements and trademarked harmonies.

If you’ve seen them live, as I have, you can feel the perfection of their harmonies as they might sound surrounding a single mic on stage.  You can also understand why, just as they were finishing their album, they were pushed into a very foreign space of producing this album while self-quarantining.  The majority of the album they created in a residential studio with Grammy-winning producer Peter Katis (Interpol, The National), but then the pandemic hit and they had to resort to virtual production sending self-produced pieces to one another.  They had to rely on their own talents but were supported by the years of close collaboration.  On the album, you can’t tell which parts were which.  This band’s sound is seamless and has been since 2015s Birds Say.

Lyrically, the band explores various facets of nature and like light shining off of a turning diamond these images are often brilliant and stark.  But within that brilliance, I struggled to find a coherence like I felt in the story themed songs of Birds Say or ruminations on the future on Extralife.  Here, the band seeks to explore the moment and the confusion of trying to express yourself in the moment, through natural imagery makes the lyrics take on a far more symbolic feel and blend in with the music shirking the need for a coherent narrative.  It doesn’t mean the lyrics are less profound; it might just mean I need to sit with them a while longer to find out how they speak to me.  An example might be in my attempted parse of the “A Light in the Dark”: It acknowledges the struggle of finding our truth and ourselves.  What do we do with ourselves when nature is so concrete? We see images, we feel a breeze or a warm sun, but within us exists the higher-level questions of love, truth, and honesty.  How do we reconcile the mystery of ourselves against the firm existence of nature?… See what I mean?

Musically, they are spot on.  They weave back and forth from more radio friendly songs to baroque folk rock.  Newbies to the band will enjoy the more pop melodies of “Crystal Caving,” “Ocean Bed,” “Green + Evergreen.”  “Green + Evergreen” is especially strong containing this power that causes goose bumps through its clever melody of violin, banjo, piano, quiet slow downs and swelling speed ups. “Keep Coming Home,” “Time Will Be,” and “A Light in the Dark” demonstrate the family that is Darlingside.  These songs belie the quiet empathetic heart of each band member and how their compositions meld each into a singular force. 

Within a world where we all know what quarantine can mean to the head and the heart, listening to a band that comes together as one in their music and harmonies can bring us back to the quotidian of being with friends and sharing a laugh or a song. 

Darlingside is criminally underrated.  This, their third full length, is a worthy addition to their canon and keeps the familiar while seeing them explore where their songwriting might take them.

The album comes out on October 9th. Listen to the prereleases tracks here:

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