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Darlingside with Henry Jamison

7 December 2018
8:00 pm - 10:30 pm
Higher Ground

Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm
$15 advance | $18 day of show
This event is all ages

The word “extraordinary” is defined as something beyond, amazing, or incredible. The word “extralife” doesn’t exist. But in the world of Darlingside—another previously non-existent word—it’s all about invention, expansion, and elevating everything into the realm of the extraordinary both conceptually and through musical performance.

The band’s new album Extralife intensifies the journey begun on its critically acclaimed 2015 album Birds Say. On that project, Darlingside’s quartet of bassist Dave Senft, guitarist/banjoist Don Mitchell, violinist/mandolinist Auyon Mukharji, and cellist/guitarist Harris Paseltiner fused assertions (“Go Back”), assumptions (“God Of Loss”), predictions (“The Ancestor”), projections (“Do You Ever Live?”) and reflections (“White Horses”). “We put our four heads together and created this collective consciousness about bits and pieces from our past and how we saw the world based upon reminiscences,” explains Paseltiner about that sojourn. It having been the Massachusetts group’s second full-length outing, Birds Say mastered a musical and lyrical path that led to the more challenging territory explored on Extralife. Mukharji describes the “ Extralife ” concept as “…a life beyond where we are now, whether that’s a brand new thing, a rebirth, or just a new version of ourselves as we move forward.” So by abandoning Birds Say ’s nostalgia and its tales of “what once was,” Darlingside created its polar opposite with Extralife , the new album exploring “what is now” and “what might be” simultaneously in the brave new world.

“A lot of the album has to do with the present and the future,” Mukharji reveals, “that future being a completely unknown quantity and the present being a new and bizarre place to be living in. I think we’re grappling with a number of aspects of reality we had not expected.” That reality, surviving a dystopian landscape, constructs the new album, the band killing many of its prior darlings (the name Darlingside being a reference to non-attachment) in the process. Their Birds Say, wide-eyed innocence is now bloodshot for the better. As the title track “Extralife” informs in four-part harmony, “It’s over now / The flag is sunk / The world has flattened out,” it loosely sets the new album’s premise. However, the recording also delivers hope through Beach Boys-inspired vocals that contrast with lyrics such as “The fiery flower beds above / Mushroom clouds reset the sky.” “Eschaton” uses a similar formula, this time immersing its Waterworld imagery in fun, fluid synthesizer runs, concluding with the rally, “No matter what we’ve been / We are the upshot now.” Its axis-flipped, Escher-mimicking lyrics sketch a variation on the End Times that suggests it’s actually preventable. Even the “Taps”-inspired trumpet mourn and harmonica cries of “Hold Your Head Up High” are held at bay by the uplifting, anthemic chorus chants of the song title’s message.

As seen throughout the above, Extralife is not shy about employing metaphysics to prove its flexible theses. Perhaps the most blatant example would be in “Futures.” Despite despondent references to “futureforests in the sea,” “bikini snow,” (a historical nickname for nuclear fallout) and even the Thermocene Epoch, we’re encouraged through time-traveling radio transmissions that “It’s not ever too late,”
undeniable when empowered by those powerful four-part harmonies. Even the song’s tiny interpolation of The Beatles’ “I’ve Just Seen A Face”, “Falling, yes I’m falling, and she keeps calling me back again,” is a reassurance that, yes, as even The Fab Four suggested, we will find our way back. And if doom and gloom is reversible, perhaps whatever darling is emerging on “Indian Orchard Road” can be killed or contained by the sheer beauty of a Darlingside musical assault.

Although Darlingside’s signature superpower is considered to be their vocal prowess, it perhaps can overwhelm their presentations’ subtleties, both live and in the studio. After all, the mind gravitates to that which is charming, and their harmonies could seduce the rings off Saturn. But Extralife is the first Frankensteining—as the band puts it—by the group’s four equal-status members. Each one now equally contributes to something way bigger than his individual part. Equal contributions of vocals, lyrical altruism and wisdom, and effortless musicianship are what empower today’s Darlingside and animate Extralife ’s twelve reality-benders.

As evidenced in their new recordings, these young turks jettison preconceived notions and hardwired life lessons with the grace of choirboys. This time around, there’s no patience for a lengthy, lighthearted song such as Birds Say ’s “Harrison Ford” when a cut-to-the-chase commentary on the “American dark horse” using a short but pathos-rich “Rita Hayworth” as its vehicle will suffice. Also, instead of relying purely on its very capable, musical fraternity of core members, they even eliminate their Darlingside darlings by expanding its Americana with surprising instrumentation such as the aforementioned trumpet, plus synthesizers, echo-chambered flutes, and more. Of the gifts and weapons left by these honorary Darlingsidians, Mukharji informs, “It very much feels like a big, communal family that’s growing together. That’s a very exciting thing.” And once described as boyishly cryptic, their innocent, poetic lyrics also were felled on the field. On Extralife , lyrics must serve as standalone poetry, cautionary tales, and extended musical backdrops via phonetics with no clear boundaries.

So considering all of the above, what exactly is “ Extralife? ” “The idea of the ‘extra life’ in a video game is another chance or another path, and the ability to continue,” reveals Paseltiner. “We read an article about Mario Brothers and the development of Nintendo in The Economist. With that first track on the album, Auyon had been conducting a lyrics experiment where he was writing from the viewpoint of Mario stuck in a video game. We then ended up taking our songs beyond the confines of that video game experiment, identifying with some of its themes like either feeling stuck in a certain dimension and having a desire to break into the next one or what it means to break beyond the sphere we are stuck in—the present. The album goes through a series of songs that deal with that.”

As “Best Of The Best Of Times” posits, “I wonder whether our days are unnumbered,” if we’re truly heading towards Game Over. Neither Extralife nor its creators have any solutions. On the other hand, “Orion” offers some guidance as to preventing the “what is now” from cementing the “what might be” explored across this brave new album: “The beach is just a line in the sand / The tide is in the palm of your hand / It’s looking like the start or the end / Either way ahead is around the bend.” Perhaps by moving beyond our preconceptions—going Extralife —we can create an amazing future by steering this world towards something incredible . That all makes up the definition of extraordinary.

If you take a look through his family tree, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Henry Jamison was born to write songs. There’s his father, a classical composer, and his mother, an English professor, who both inspired and encouraged him directly, but if you continue tracing Jamison’s lineage back even further, some interesting names start to turn up. Go back to the 1800’s, for example, and you’ll find “Battle Cry of Freedom” author George Frederick Root, the most popular songwriter of the Civil War era. Travel even further back in time, to 14th century England to be exact, and you’ll find the poet John Gower, known to be a friend to both Chaucer and Richard II.

“There’s definitely this bardic tradition in my family,” reflects Jamison. “I don’t know how much any of it means, but I was handed a set of skills growing up, and I had to learn how to develop them on my own.”

With his stunning debut album, ‘The Wilds,’ Jamison is ready to share that development with the world and claim his place as the latest in a long line of remarkable storytellers. Blending delicate acoustic guitar and banjo with programmed percussion loops and synthesizers, the Vermont songwriter grapples with the jarring dissonances of contemporary life on the record as he struggles to reconcile the clashes between our inner and outer selves, the natural world and our fabricated society. Jamison writes with cinematic precision, conjuring vivid scenes and fully realized characters wrestling with existential crises and modern malaise. His dazzling way with words and keen ear for memorable hooks at once calls to mind the baroque pop of Sufjan Stevens and the unflinching emotional honesty of Frightened Rabbit, but the delivery is uniquely his own, understated yet devastating.

‘The Wilds’ comes on the heels of Jamison’s 2016 breakout debut EP, ‘The Rains.’ Tracks from the collection racked up more than 20 million streams on Spotify, as his uniquely off-kilter brand of lyricism earned a swarm of critical acclaim. NPR’s World Café featured Jamison in their breaking artist series, raving that his “descriptions of places ring true and his subtle production touches stand out,” while Vice Noisey said his “mellow folk…soothes your nerves,” and Consequence of Sound praised him as a “visual lyricist” writing music that “sounds like a dream taking form.” The EP earned Jamison dates with Big Thief, Lady Lamb, and Tall Heights plus festival appearances and performances across Europe.

When it came time to record ‘The Wilds,’ Jamison picked up right where he left off with ‘The Rains,’ returning to the same unassuming, mountainside house in Goshen, VT, where he’d cut the EP. There, Jamison reunited with engineer/co-producer Ethan West, a veteran figure he likens to a musical midwife who helped him birth the songs. While Jamison’s home in Burlington isn’t exactly Times Square, working in Goshen felt like an opportunity to leave behind even the slightest traces of urbanity.

“The studio is about an hour and a half from where I live in Burlington, and you’ve got to drive a little dirt road halfway up a mountain to get there, so it always feels like a bit of a pilgrimage,” says Jamison. “By the time I get to the studio, I feel like I’ve entered some slightly different zone. The property is covered in trees, and Ethan decided he was also going to start a maple sugaring and honey business, so we had to schedule our recording sessions around his maple sugaring season, which is the most Vermont problem you could have.”

Jamison is a solitary artist who writes, records, and arranges everything himself, including all of the album’s string arrangements, and ‘The Wilds’ is a pure reflection of the world through his eyes. The record opens with an ethereal vocal movement that gives way to “Bright & Future,” a short, spare, richly visual song that sets the stage for a record driven by philosophical and psychological musings. On the title track and “Through A Glass,” Jamison comes to a Walt Whitman-esque understanding of the multitudes contained within each of us, while “Sunlit Juice” and “Dallas Love Field” use extended metaphors to examine what happens when we try to impose our outer will on our inner lives (it usually doesn’t end well), and “The Jacket” searches for authentic connection in a synthetic landscape.

“Sometimes it feels like you’re just moving through this air conditioned world of artificial light and hard surfaces,” says Jamison. “That song is about longing for human connection but feeling cut off from everything I’m trying to commune with. The air conditioning and fluorescence leads to this total loss of self.”

The only hope we have for truly understanding ourselves and making peace with our psyches, according to ‘The Wilds,’ is to accept ourselves and each other for the complicated, conflicted, imperfect beings we are. On the abstract “Black Mountain” Jamison reaches the realization that by sacrificing his attachment to his sense of self, he can gain a greater appreciation for his place in the universe, the way a river running into the sea ceases to be, yet simultaneously becomes something grander than it had ever been before. On the gorgeous “Varsity,” he comes to terms with the reality that things will never be as cut and dry as we’d like, singing, “I’m not what I appear to be/ I’m a little more confused, but also less so,” while on the utterly charming “Real Peach,” he seeks to bury the hatchet with the declaration that “if all is fair in love and war, then I don’t know what we are we fighting for.”

“If you’re fighting with someone, you can really believe what you’re saying, and they can really believe what they’re saying, and so you sometimes have to look at the space around your disagreement and discover that you still want to be with that person,” explains Jamison. “It made me think of this Rumi line which I adapted for the song, where he talks about being in the field beyond the right and wrong.”

In Jamison’s case, he may be on the mountainside above the right and wrong, in a basement studio where the outcome of any disagreement is less important than the revelations it produces. The truth of the matter, according to ‘The Wilds,’ is that truth itself is subjective and deeply personal, and the sooner we accept that, the sooner we can move from conflict, both internal and external, to harmony. It’s heady stuff he’s writing, but as far as Henry Jamison is concerned, it’s all part of growing up, which is why the album’s final track, “No One Told Me,” references Galleons Lap.

“That’s the place where Christopher Robin leaves Winnie The Pooh and goes out into the world on his own,” says Jamison. “In the song, it feels like I’m finally moving out of childhood and into adulthood.”

In some ways it’s an ending, and a bittersweet one at that, but in others, it’s just the beginning of a brand new life. As Jamison waves goodbye to his past selves on ‘The Wilds,’ he welcomes into being new multitudes, each of them counting the days until sugaring season, patiently waiting for their chance to press record and document this latest branch of an extraordinary family tree.