Darling West - We'll Never Know Unless We Try
Darling West is a Norwegian group led by husband and wife couple Tor Egil Kreken and Mari Sandvær Kreken. For many years Tor was an in-demand pick-up musician, leading to days away from home on tour. Whilst her husband was out on the road, Mari worked as a backing vocalist, mainly in Oslo. To overcome the regular separation, they decided to form a group based around Mari’s ethereal vocals and the couple’s growing collection of self-penned songs. That was around six years ago and as Darling West’s music gained in popularity the group has released four albums, gained a couple of Spellemann awards (Norwegian Grammy) and successfully toured across America, the UK and Europe winning critical acclaim and more fans for their unique blend of country, folk and Americana music. WE’LL NEVER KNOW UNLESS WE TRY, their fifth album, is a shimmering collection of original songs that showcase the duo’s celestial harmonies, with stories that unfold like exotic, vivid dreams, rooted heavily in 1970s West Coast harmony-led country-rock and introspective lyricism. Their music mixes the snow of their homeland and the dew on the grass of a cool summer morning in the Appalachians … a breath of fresh air that constantly shifts and evolves.
Just like the soundscapes, the lyrics of opener Hey There are also hazy. They seem to depict a love story between two people who have to face the rest of the world while dealing with their own insecurities. Mari is possessed of a voice that can soothe and embrace and fits comfortably within the mellow arrangement. Can’t Help It showcases the duo’s ability to pen songs that leave a mark. It sears like early summer. It rambles like a sunset drive. It aches like the early days of a fleeting crush or flickers out like the end of a long one, hanging airy yet thick as a California July. Darling West create songs that are delicate and breezy, with slyly subtle undercurrents that suggest a much darker universe. River is unsettling, hypnotic and mysterious. Mari’s extraordinarily versatile voice transports the listener up and down the emotional spectrum with swirling ease encased in a spellbinding arrangement.
Home also feels hypnotic, almost meditative; it draws the listener into a moment of self-reflection. A song that unwinds and reveals itself to you the more you listen to it; there’s a poignant hopefulness here that tends to just radiate from all of the duo’s best songs. This album represents the easy-going culture of the West Coast, while tapping into the vulnerability found in relationships. Mari sings with a cello-laced otherworldly longing on The Calling as she creates a yearning dreamlike atmosphere, reminiscing on circumstances surrounding her loss with eerie percussion and deep-voiced oohs. When Mountains Fall has an Appalachian mountain tune vibe with softly plucked banjo and haunting harmonica. For four minutes, the song dislodges you from the chaos of your daily urgencies to sit unperturbed in equanimity, before quietly fading out and leaving you lost in its afterglow. The harmonica comes to the for again on True Friends. The only co-write, this was written in partnership with Nashville’s Aaron Lee Tasjan and Erica Blinn. Featuring silken harmonies and the life metaphor of valuing friendships both new and old the group’s musical chemistry emanates from the speakers like morning sunshine through a kitchen window.
This album comes across as a calm intake of a cleansing breath; a beautiful collection of songs and sounds. Darling West give nods to some iconic sources, but it’s their atmospheric ambiance that’s key to their signature sound. It’s weirdly retro but daring enough to propel it forward to the present. Do yourself a favour; make this record and their music a part of the things you cherish in life.