Nashville’s Mariela are making a big splash this summer with the crossover synth pop tunes found on their new EP Darkness in the Garden, and while the American underground has, by and large, yet to disappoint in its creative output this year, this splendid six-track is unquestionably among the more elite in its class. From the cathartic strumming of “The Funeral” to the sterling blend of rock and dream pop in “Going Away,” there’s scarcely a dull moment to behold in Darkness in the Garden, which is best described as a critical highpoint of this band’s budding journey towards stardom.
“Even If We Don’t Know,” one of this record’s three singles, has a lyrical luster that is balanced with a power pop-influenced hook that reminded me of The Replacements towards the climactic end of their storied career. Mariela have described it as a song about unconditional love that knows no bounds, growing only stronger amidst the many changes and uncertainties that life can throw in our direction, but even if it weren’t adorned with such blunt, honest lyricism, there’s no denying that the music would convey the emotion of the narrative here just as brilliantly.
“Misshapen Shadows” and “Borrowed Light” are a bit more instrumentally expressive than they are poetically sharp, but their experimental edges don’t make more straightforward tracks like “Shatter the Glass” or “The Funeral” any less intriguing. Mariela are mastering the art of multilayered songwriting, and in a decade that has been devoid of this kind of conceptualism, Darkness in the Garden is a sort of diamond in the rough. There’s a slight unevenness to the arrangement of the tracklist, but it doesn’t impact the substance of the music enough to make these songs unengaging at all. To be truthful, I’m far more interested in hearing how these tunes translate live than I am in deciphering why they were put in this particular order.
Mariela clearly value tonality more than their contemporaries outside of the independent underground do, and their commitment to quality audio is reflected in the mix of Darkness in the Garden without debate. “Borrowed Light” and “Going Away” reverberate with a physicality that is definitely uncommon in mainstream pop, but their muscularity never obscures their sleekly appointed hooks. The vocal melodies are molten hot, the guitars crisp and clean, and even when they’re diving into a textured groove with a rebellious adrenaline unlike any other (“The Funeral”), Mariela’s sound isn’t muddied by a producer’s bells and whistles.
If you haven’t listened to this band by now, then I would highly recommend checking out Darkness in the Garden, as it definitely captures Mariela’s unique style better than anything that they’ve released previously has. I doubt that this will mark their creative peak, but I think there’s a good chance that this EP could expose their music to a much larger audience than prior efforts have. Summer is in full swing, and pop enthusiasts craving a solid collection of jams and electrified ballads will be unlikely to find anything as detailed and well-rounded out of the Nashville scene this season as they will in this eccentric six-pack of provocative sonic experiments.
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