Darlingside’s new Fish Pond Fish is a wondrous tapestry of baroque pop music knitted with the purity of folk needles.
Now, just a confession: Too many years ago at my eight-grade graduation party at the local bowling alley, somebody coughed up a coin that spun the juke box into the selected beauty of Marmalade’s song ‘Reflections Of My Life’. Now, even in the dire mix of a (not unmakeable) 3/10 split, I paused, while others continued to toss bowling balls into all the pins, and I became obsessed with the languid bit of soft carpet ride into the comfort of a warm cerebral cortex. Now, I later discovered the term baroque pop; but no matter, yeah, it was love at first listen.
And, by the way, I missed that 3/10 split!
No matter, Fish Pond Fish doesn’t miss anything! And, truly, it is a deep and pure well water spring with glorious Beach Boys (circa Pet Sounds) harmonies gracing the sound of CSN and Simon and Garfunkel, and lyrics that leave careful human footprints in the always ancient nature. Indeed, as they sing, “Old growth forest and sun in your veins/At the daily dawning of a green new age”. Darlingside even quote John Muir in their press release. Indeed (again!), “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks”.
The same is true for great music!
And this is great music that touches a spiritual dimension. The brief ‘Woolgathering’ (nice title!) sets the scene with those Beach Boys vocals and a slight acoustic guitar. Then, ‘Crystal Craving’ expands into everything once loved in the early 70’s clever folk revival. Oh – there’s a brain synapse violin/cello bit that soundtracks the weird beauty a fervent whirling dervish dance. And ‘Ocean Bed’, set against the percolating percussion, becomes (almost) a shamanistic voiced ritualistic countdown to some sort of eternity regained experienced. ‘Ocean Bed’ is brisk with percussion, which serves to juxtapose the vocals that sing ever-present heavenly wisdom.
An idea: The recording of this album was interrupted by the coronavirus; hence, band members lost the intimate studio presence and virtually finished the album that, according to the band’s website resulted in music that is “sonically dense yet individually marked” and “impossible to categorize by one texture”. Well, where their last album Extralife oozed purity, Fish Pond Fish breaths with “extra” depth. And, as Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in his poem ‘Each And All’, “I yielded myself to the perfect whole”. Messrs. David Senft, Don Mitchell, Auyon Mukharji, and Harris Paseltiner merge musically without ego, and the music “shines”, as Paul Simon once sang in his ‘Graceland’ song, “like a National guitar”.
That said, there is even more acoustic beauty. ‘Keep Coming Home’ begins with voices – a human mumble – and then tingles with simplicity and throbs with psych radio frequencies to distant stars. Now, to be old and show my age, I must (for the sake of those who remember such stuff), suggest the song conjures the quiet greatness of Gallagher and Lyle (of McGuinness Flint ‘When I’m Dead And Gone’ fame!) and their subtle classic record Willie And The Lapdog. Indeed, high praise. And then, ‘Green + Evergreen’ gets (sort of) soulful. And (please don’t shoot the messenger!), but the tune is a dead-ringer for the (quasi) folk prog sound of Barclay James Harvest, circa Everyone Is Everybody Else. Ah – the banjo fueled ‘Time Will Be’ also echoes early BJH in folky ‘Little Lapwing’ or ‘Mill Boys’ mode. And the beautiful ‘February/Stars’ (to throw another reference into the review), certainly conjures the sound of The Amazing Blondel – just after John David Gladwin left and Eddie Baird and Terry Wincott carried on with the Blondel album.
And fans of the very great (and very current!) Caamp will find a lot to love here.
‘Denver’ is soft acoustic purity, which gets into an abstract orbit as the violin and viola twist into a melodic contemplative spacey helix.
The final three songs complete the circular motion of Fish Pond Fish. ‘Mountain + Sea’ carries the archetypal Darlingside sound: a brisk (and slightly) dissonant viola and violin frame the immaculate harmonies, while the clever percussion adds perfect punctuation. This is beautiful stuff, and recalls the baroque folk vibe of (the very great and also from Boston, Massachusetts band) Appaloosa, who recorded one album in 1969. Then, ‘See You Change’ is an acoustic guitar and voice return to a blissful Eden. Sometimes, a tune can quell time. And finally, ‘A Light In The Dark’ slowly stretches the vinyl grooves with the string section that sounds like a harmonium, while the languid vocals sing, “Pink moon playing in the dead of noon”; then add more insight with the words, “Time is a figment on a fig tree road”. And there’s a really nice banjo bit to boot! Of course, with that “pink moon” reference, any self-respecting folk-loving person will simply recite Nick Drake’s words, “And now we rise/And we are everywhere”. Sure, and Darlington sings, “Setting is a rising soon to come”. Ditto for a nice thought.
Years ago, when I discovered Marmalade’s ‘Reflections Of My Life’ (while I muffed a 3/10 split spare!), I never realized the import of that opening line, “The changing of sunlight to moonlight”. That’s an eternal moment of introspection. And Fish Pond Fish could well be a soundtrack to that saga in which we mere humans contemplate (from the band’s own website words) “geology, meteorology, ornithology, astronomy, and botany”, or in Joni Mitchell’s words, (with the “urge for going”) “We got to get ourselves back to the garden”. And thankfully, Darlingside makes music that touches that ancient and very beautiful acoustic paradise.
Artists’ website: www.darlingside.com
‘A Light On In The Dark’ – in session: