Named as the Folk Alliance Artist of the Year 2016, the Massachussetts-based quartet are likely to make Mumford fans moist with their four-part harmony baroque folk-pop, but you’ll also hear touches of Fleet Foxes, the Byrds, CSN&Y and, especially on ‘My Gal, My Guy’, with Simon and Garfunkel in there too. Comprising bassist Dave Senft, guitarist and banjo player Don Mitchell, classical violinist and folk mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, and cellist and guitarist Harris Paseltiner, they complement their core instrumentation with harmonium, Wurlitzer and grand piano, but no drums.
Full of dreamy melodies that contrast with the often melancholic lyrics, their’s is a clear sky sound, a mix of summer and wintery colours (t was recorded in Boston’s snowiest month in history) that opens with ‘The Ancestors’, a number that, underpinned by pulsing bass, shares a similar sentiment to ‘After The Goldrush’ as, in choral manner, they sing “I will find my way/Out of the dark someday/Into a crimson yellow sun/I’ll follow my baby boy/He’ll be a silver toy/And we’ll count the ages as they’re ending.”
Addressing a theme of nostalgia, the equally melancholic ‘White Horses’ brings in the violin and piano to supplement brushed banjo before they get playful on the skittering, tumblingly sung ‘Harrison Ford’, where lines like “Harrison and I are on a bird he built out of old sedans, balloons, and duct tape. Projected in the cabin, there’s an agent he calls ‘The Wolf’. She never shows her face. Her voice as big as a house, she says, ‘Burn your things and meet me on the roof in an hour. I think I need to tell my landlord that I’m gonna be late with the rent” evoke an American chamber folk Syd Barrett.
The a capella intro to the 12-string jangling ‘Go Back’, one of several stand-outs, has been likened to CSN&Y, but I’m more put in mind of a cross between The Byrds and early Matthews Southern Comfort not to mention Oxford’s own folk-rock supremos The Dreaming Spires. The brief title track, a musing on communication and yet another song to draw on natural imagery, is another delight with its handclap percussion, wheezing midsection cello and violin and the calypso tumble of the verses, as is the Celtic and Appalachian colours of the gorgeous but more serious ‘The God of Loss’ with its lyric about familial loyalties.
The 35 seconds of ‘Water Rose’ (think this album’s Bookends) give way to another philosophical meditation (“only time will tell if you’re the sea itself or an echoing shell”) with the handclap beat and more complex arrangement of ‘Do You Ever Live?’ that suggests Brian Wilson to be an influence too. A further musical departure from the body of the album comes with the penultimate psychedelia-tinted five minute ‘Volcano Sky’, a sort of meeting of Wilco and The Flaming Lips that opens with a sparse ghostly piano and sythesised sounds conjuring the vastness of the universe at night before strummed guitar sets the slow motion swirl into play, a solitary vocal leading the number to its fuzzed finale.
Rippling banjo returns things to the wide open landscape and dreamy harmonising of the upbeat ‘Good For You’ with its sense of being alone in the vastness of nature but also of feeling ‘a comfort in the darkness’, a line that echoes the spirituality that threads throughout the album. Birds Say is their third album and deserves to be the one that introduces them to a far wider audience. Tweet this.
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Artists’ website: http://www.darlingside.com/
‘White Horses’ – official video: