Before the pandemic hit, Boston’s Darlingside was slated to be a headliner at MeadowGrass. The foursome’s new album Fish Pond Fish (Thirty Tigers) perfects the unique blend of vocal harmonies, acoustic instruments and electronica Darlingside polished over three previous albums. There’s enough world-weariness in tracks like “Green + Evergreen” and “Ocean Bed” to fit a 2020 ambience, yet a sense of hopeful majesty infuses everything. In its finer moments, the album is bound to evoke comparisons with the debut eponymous album by Seattle’s Fleet Foxes — and this is where a problem arises.
Critics went ballistic in late September when Fleet Foxes released a 15-track streaming album, Shore, with startling arrangements and cryptic lyrical observations (check out “Going-to-the-Sun Road”). But it’s largely a showcase for founder Robin Pecknold. While far more interesting than their last album, Crack-Up, its value resides more in abstract presentation than in harmonies. Fleet Foxes is still a very relevant band, but the barbershop-quartet-for-the-2020s award clearly goes to Darlingside.
Also New & Noteworthy
Future Islands, As Long as You Are (4AD) – Baltimore’s Future Islands has a fan base which loves synth-pop that hints at Depeche Mode. The new album is a finely crafted affair, intended to dispel memory of their rushed 2017 fifth album The Far Field. The band needs to address the Shakespearean style of singer Samuel Herring, which, though no more angsty than Morrissey, is combined here with orchestral synthesizer. This excessive presentation leaves the sense Herring would assign gravitas to peanut butter. But then, that’s what the band’s romanticist fans look for.
Bonnie Whitmore, Last Will & Testament (Aviatrix Records) – One element missing from modern Nashville is the type of full-throated testimony with rich band backing once favored by ’80s Rosanne Cash and other women. Whitmore, a Texas native who’s played bass with artists like Hayes Carll, is out to remedy that. The album will initially stun listeners with the depth of backing musicians, but its staying power comes from subtle cultural and political cues in songs like “Asked for It” and “Flashes & Cables.” It’s not too often an album arrives with such force.
Editor's note: This content was updated with Bonnie Whitmore's record label.