Chill-inducing notes cascade from a guitar before a swarthy piano’s powerful melody comes crashing down on us as “Misshapen Shadows” comes into focus. There’s tension in the air, a hint of melancholy skewed by a flickering flame of optimism, and it’s all contained within the elegant harmony taking shape before our very ears. A lush lead vocal enters view, only to be joined by a playful percussive pattern in the background. Suddenly, and without warning, we’re off and running with a feverish rhythm that is par for the course in this, Mariela’s all-new EP, Darkness in the Garden. “Misshapen Shadows” is one of the more monolithic tracks in this latest stunner from the Nashville indie syndicate, but it’s not the only instance of purely enthralling musicality in action here. The bass-heavy groover “Borrowed Light” launches into its throttling beat while avoiding the pitfalls of an excessive drum track. The guitars take a backseat to the velvety-soft serenade pinning all of the instrumental warring together in a singular, melodic tour de force, and as we continue to look through this tracklist, it becomes quite evident that Mariela are using songs like this to introduce us to their emerging (and vastly improved) experimental sound.
In “Even If We Don’t Know,” a boisterous bassline is carefully straddled by a patient percussive volley between the drums and the razor-sharp riffing. This track, along with the fluttering “Going Away,” are not as beefy in tone as the others on Darkness in the Garden tend to be, but their understated attributes lend some diversity to the record that, at least from where I sit, makes it the cinematic treat that it is. There’s never an occasion on which we catch Mariela recycling the same formula in two different spots on this EP; in fact, quite the contrary. My initial listening session with Darkness in the Garden was rousing, but further analysis led to my breaking down the lyrics and music as two independent entities. In many cases, the instruments are telling us a different story than the words are – take “The Funeral” for example. We’ve got this upbeat tempo, a lot of textured bass, lighthearted vocal, and then this lyrical nucleus that is uncompromisingly brutal and self-critical on the part of our singer. It’s very postmodern stuff, but not so intellectual that it would repel occasional pop consumers.
“Shatter the Glass” opens Darkness in the Garden on a high note, dishing out some really glittery guitar parts that fit in well with anything currently topping the charts, sans the artificiality, of course, and while it’s not as intense a number as “The Funeral” or “Misshapen Shadows” is, it adheres to a traditional tone and subsequently delivers an easy-listening product of strong pop hooks and mild lyrical lashings. I had some pretty high expectations coming into this review, but I must say that Mariela blew me away with what they created in this incredible EP. Darkness in the Garden is a homerun for these Nashville indie rockers, and moreover, a great acquirement for music enthusiasts everywhere this summer.