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Live Review: PREMIERE: Darling James offers high resolution, left-of-centre pop on his Mood Eyes EP

2 August 2018 | 11:00 am | Kyle Fensom

On his sophomore EP, Darling James applies his refined songwriting to a six-track collection of high resolution and slightly-left-of-centre pop songs

Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist DARLING JAMES is today premiering his sophomore EP, Mood Eyes, through Purple Sneakers. The follow-up to his 2016 debut EP, Mood Eyes sees the former (co)frontman of indie-rock stalwarts THE BOAT PEOPLE apply his long history of carefully honed, fully-matured songwriting to a six-track collection of intelligent, high resolution and slightly-left-of-centre pop songs.

Bursting to life with prismatic, high resolution synths, glossy production and immense, 80s-inspired drums, Mood Eyes sees James operating at his sharpest as a songwriter, unapologetically dialling up his pop tendencies without sacrificing any of the intelligence of his music. And as much as its populated by this veneer of pop perfection, the EP also seems obsessed with working in little unexpected left turns or odd flourishes beneath this veneer. It’s therefore also a study in contrasts, allowing the sparkling, pastel-soft pop sounds of James’ music to coexist alongside the heavier, more left-of-centre elements of the EP.

Take, for example, ‘Silver Bullet’, the opening track and the most recent single lifted from the EP. Underscored by an agitated, tense guitar line, it addresses the paradox of trying to create stability in your life via creating incessant instability - and the unhealthy consequences of succeeding at this lifestyle. “I wrote ‘Silver Bullet’ equally as a break up song with my own bad habits and to address a friend who seems stuck in the same kind of endless patterns of denial and blame that I was,” he explains.

At the beginning of the second verse, he addresses this friend directly: “You’ve been so lost, you’ve been lonely / So now you’re out drinking to fill what was empty / Such a repetitive story / I can’t believe you’re still upright and talking / Cause nothing can help to forgive and forget / Like stumbling around with some new best friends you just met”. But where other songwriters might reach for an easy, ascending melodic structure, James lets the melody wilt beneath the weight of its disappointment, pitching his vocals down - which not only makes for an eminently more interesting listen, but a more memorable one at that.

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The odd flourishes are again on display during the instrumental ‘Interlude (Present Sentimental)’. Arriving at the halfway point of the EP, ‘Interlude’ opens up some space for the listener to breath amidst the HD pop maximalism of Mood Eyes, dividing the shimmering, glitchy ‘Never Let Me Go’ - which is perhaps the most focused and conventional pop track on the EP - from the driving, post-punk-leaning ‘Glass Canoe’. In contrast to the rest of the EP, ‘Interlude’ pleasantly rides an acoustic guitar pattern, a crackling, ghostly synth melody and the sounds of a thunderstorm rolling outside as it cycles around and around, almost as if the music is ruminating on something.

And then it’s all capped off with ‘Didn’t I Get It Right’, a track which contrasts the frustration and the lingering regret of falling just short of expectations against a persistent sense of optimism, a quiet acceptance and a redemption offered through the shimmering, twinkling Zither melody that suffuses the track. Like the smartest pop music, ‘Didn’t I Get It Right’ uses the universality of the genre to hold a mirror up to the listener, inviting them to consider from the question posed the bluntly stated opening line - “Have you ever kept a tally of everything you’ve said but didn’t mean to?” - some rather uncomfortable questions in a way which is therapeutic, cathartic and confronting all at once. The track, like the Mood Eyes EP as a whole, is evidently comfortable wading through the grey areas of life instead of presenting a false black-and-white dichotomy. Again, as with everything on the EP, Darling James’ songwriting is carefully honed, deliberate and calculating, dropping odd flourishes and left-of-centre artistic decisions into his high resolution pop with an enviable deftness.

Mood Eyes is out August 3rd.

Darling James will be touring behind Mood Eyes across the East Coast in August - you can find all the dates and ticket info below:

Friday, August 3rd - NightQuarter, Gold Coast (Free)

Saturday, August 4th - The Milk Factory, Brisbane

Sunday, August 5th - The Brewery, Byron Bay (Free)

Thursday, August 9th - The Worker's Club, Melbourne

Thursday, August 16th - Wayward's, Sydney

Friday, August 17th - Selina's, Coogee Bay (Free)

IMAGE: Supplied