Five guys. Five unique musical personas. One aesthetic, astonishingly more congruent than the sum of its parts.
I’m talking about Darlingside, a self-dubbed “string rock” outfit based out of Northampton, MA. String rock is an apt term since, for a band with three guitarists, guitar plays a surprisingly minimal role in Darlingside’s sound, taking a backseat to rich string arrangements. Bass too keeps mostly clear of the limelight, with low frequencies dominated by cello. Vocals also dominate, often in the form of lush five-part harmonies, and drums are the final major ingredient in the Darlingside aesthetic, commanding in both volume and intensity and perpetually diverging from the expected course. The songwriting carefully balances satisfying refrains with a penchant for exploration and, while somewhat heavy handed, is refreshingly self assured in that. Although they’ve been together for only a year, they’ve broken out of their hometown’s venerable but student-centric music scene and have the toured east coast heavily, from Portland, ME to D.C.
The band chalks its eclectic sound up to an “unlikely hodge-podge” of musical backgrounds, which merits some explanation. Harris Paseltiner (cello, guitar) is an accomplished classical cellist who has appeared twice on NPR. Auyon Mukharji (violin, mandolin, saz) traveled to Brazil, Ireland, and Turkey, on an ethnomusicology fellowship, studying and writing about the traditional music he encountered there. Don Mitchell (guitar) toured throughout the states as a boy alto and, after picking up guitar, honed his singer/songwriter talents playing for sunset boat cruises in Maine. Dave Senft (bass, guitar) started arranging vocal music in college as musical director of his a cappella group after which he spent two years as a street musician. Sam Kapala (drums, pennywhistle) began drumming at the age of seven, and his background includes ample training in jazz, funk, hip-hop, and rock. On top of it all, they’re all talented vocalists. […]
Darlingside’s sound doesn’t fit cleanly (or even approximately) into any of the numerous hip subgenres in vogue today. It’s also not the kind of music to be dissected and deified by the avant-garde, for although it’s got plenty to enjoy, it’s not bizarre, challenging, or ironic enough to warrant such attention. However, it’s still a bit too quirky to be lapped up mindlessly by the undeserving mainstream. One might wonder then where Darlingside, alienated from both extremes, will find its most ardent support.
A fair concern, and yet, I can’t shake the feeling that this music has widespread appeal. It’s music that my hip college sister, jazz aficionado father, and eccentric grandmother who only generally only listens to the Beatles, children’s songs, and feminist spoken word poetry, would probably all enjoy. And it’s music I enjoy. Pop sensibilities unconstrained by the pop aesthetic push Darlingside outside the realm of trendy, safely beyond the obnoxious trifling of those who wear their music tastes on their sleeves as a mere fashion accessory, and into deeper and more enduring places.
- Nate Greenberg, from the Ampeater Review, November 2010