Norwegian duo Darling West – Mari and Tor Egil Kreken – formed in 201, using the opportunity to spend more time together after getting married. Tor was one of Norway’s most critically acclaimed studio and live musicians, and Mari sang backing vocals for the likes of Marit Larsen, Stein Torleif Bjella and Maria Solheim. With a fascination for American songwriting traditions, the band released their debut album Winter Passing in 2014. Since that release, they’ve spent plenty of time in the US and their new album We’ll Never Know Unless We Try is the end product of their travels.
We’ll Never Know Unless We Try was recorded in Propeller Studios in Oslo and produced by Kåre Chr. Vestrheim. It sees the ‘cosmic folk’ duo leaning into the West Coast influences they were exposed to while extensively touring in the lead up to making this record. Across the 10 songs, Darling West gently pull you into their world and win you over with their delicate songs. It’s fair to say that it’s not the most instant record but it’s often said the best albums are the ones you need to work at and spend some time with.
The record opens with Hey There, an acoustic-led ballad that allows Mari’s melodic vocals to draw you in. The tempo ups slightly on second track Make It Last, which sounds like the kind of song you’d hope Fleetwood Mac would be making if they were still putting out new music. There’s a dreamy California-feel to the song and Mari’s voice brings to mind Kacey Musgraves on the Golden Hour record. One of the first real stand out moments on the record is the beat-driven Can’t Help It, which steps things up a little and has a chorus that sticks in your memory.
Elsewhere on the record the gorgeous Try features one of the best vocals on the record from Mari, River uses harmonies to drive the melody in an interesting and compelling way, and the beautiful Home is the kind of song you’ll be desperate to witness live so you can shed a tear and get lost in it. On The Calling there’s an almost Celtic twang to Mari’s voice as the stirring and moody instrumentation creates an atmosphere. She does some little riffs that are really pleasant to the ear and frequently pushes into her upper range.
The dreamy folk song When Mountains Fall brings the album to a close, stripping back the production and instrumentation to allow Mari and Tor’s harmonies to stand in the spotlight. It’s a bare bones way to end the record but it brings things full circle, linking back to the simple opener Hey There.
We’ll Never Know Unless We Try has plenty of layers and there’s a lot to admire here. The production never overwhelms Mari’s vocal and it’s the kind of record you could put on when you want to relax after a long day at work. There’s perhaps a lack of variety in the sounds across the 10 tracks with Darling West sticking to their strengths. I would have liked to hear them switch things up a little more in places but that takes nothing away from the beautiful collection of songs they’ve crafted here.
Track list: 1. Hey There 2. Make It Last 3. Can’t Help It 4. River 5. Try 6. True Friends 7. Home 8. The Calling 9. Hold On 10. When Mountains Fall Record label: Jansen Records Release date: 7th February 2020 Buy We’ll Never Know Unless We Try