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Boston's Darlingside are a rock band, but not in the traditional sense. They melt faces with orchestral string instruments: violin, cello, bass. And that's not the only way they're turning the genre on its head.
In the past five years, the band have released two EPs (2010's self-titled debut and this year's Woodstock, a collaborative effort with singer-songwriter Heather Maloney) and one album (2012's Pilot Machines). With each recording, they grow bolder and less conventional.
"Good Man," the EP's opening track, is an insightful, mid-tempo rock song about both sides of the relationship spectrum: those who can and want to commit, and those who cannot. Don Mitchell's strong, soulful voice gets your attention from the get-go. "Malea" ups the ante with layers of strings that alternate between stately and off-kilter. Harris Paseltiner's cello playing gives the track a stark, ominous quality. Then there are quick breakdowns composed entirely of handclaps. Whimsy meets worry as folk and rock converge.
Darlingside continue their creative approach to social commentary on this release, using Joni Mitchell's Woodstock as inspiration. Several songs contain lyrics about a roadside lily, a symbol of unlikely triumph that characterizes the band's conventions-be-damned success story. Whether mixing rock traditions with bluegrass and folk, or having everyone in the band sing on the bluesy a cappella number "No Shortcuts," these musicians aren't afraid to take risks.
This album takes the band into new musical territory. "Into the Woods" is the band's most atmospheric track to date and features some of mandolinist Auyon Mukharji's finest moments. With nimble fingers, he zips around the edges of driving drums and guitars. Mitchell uses the Big Bad Wolf as a metaphor for the Occupy movement's struggles on the acoustic pop track "Blow the House Down." Here Mukharji dazzles with a devilish violin solo that mimics the tension between the protesters and the one percent.
“Still," the first single on Pilot Machines, encapsulates the tone and feel of the band's career thus far. Whether creating stunning four-part harmonies, creating groovy rock rhythms, or harpooning customer service script material like "We do appreciate your patience/Your satisfaction is our first concern," this song is a delight. The band further highlight their humorous side in the song's video, a musical performed by sock puppets.