Album Review: Danielle Durack – ‘No Place’

Posted: by The Editor

Superficially, Danielle Durack’s No Place will garner comparisons to the works of the members of boygenius. Like Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, Durack deals in sparse singer-songwriter tunes about heartbreak; she even considers boygenius one of her formative influences. But digging deeper reveals that No Place is its own fully realized album.

The album begins in earnest about a minute in, after the airy acoustic “Mistakes,” which is closer to a prelude to “By Now” than anything else; when “By Now” starts up, it’s similar to “Mistakes,” Durack’s voice lilting above a soft guitar. It sounds almost mournful before the drums come in ninety seconds in and provide some structure to the song; a minute later the song fills in even more, building into a sweet folk-rock bridge before winding back down suddenly. It’s the sort of minimalist pop song that might’ve found purchase on the radio in a time before the age of autotune; this is one of the modes Durack functions in.

No Place is split near down the middle between plaintive, lovelorn ballads and soft pop songs; in her best moments, Durack combines the two. “By Now” exemplifies this right off the bat, and the following “Broken Wings” hammers it home. While it might seem like cheating to pick out the album’s lead single–one that’s been out since last October–as the easy standout, it’s just too clear. The song shows off in four minutes Durack’s range, beginning the first verse with just a guitar and Durack’s voice before the second verse brings in the full band, and at the chorus “Broken Wings” is ripped wide open, reborn as a straight-up rock song that finds Durack turning in one of the most impressive vocal performances on the LP. It fades away quickly, though, circling back around and ending the same way it began. It’s an entire album’s worth of buildup, payoff, and emotional heft in one song, and it’s the best song in Durack’s catalog.

The only song that at all nears the intensity of “Broken Wings”’ climax is “Don’t Know If I’ll Stick Around.” It’s here that Durack’s pop sensibilities come to the fore, with an instantly memorable hook and a drum machine driving the song. At the other end of the spectrum are songs like “Billy” and “There Goes My Heart,” which place more emphasis on Durack’s songwriting and heartwrenching delivery. “Billy” is a swelling, piano-based number that relies on the singer’s upper register; the song’s final verse sees Durack’s backing band joining her and adds layered vocals to close out No Place’s A-side on a triumphant note. It’s a good thing it does, too, because the similarly piano-based “There Goes My Heart” immediately follows, as that ten-minute duo could’ve easily become a drag. Pretty and vocal-centric, “There Goes My Heart” is the sparsest on the record; placing an album’s two softest ballads back-to-back is always a dangerous move, but Durack differentiates the two well enough. 

Being as restrained as it is, “There Goes My Heart” pushes Durack’s lyrics to the front; lines like “you’re calling me crying to tell me you’re sorry / to tug on my heartstrings and call me your darling / and that’s what I wanted but not what I asked for” are as honest and bare as the music behind them, giving them a singular weight on the record. No Place is, as those lyrics suggest, a breakup record, as so many pretty singer-songwriter albums are; Durack’s lyrics do not fall into typical breakup tropes or standard heartbreak fare, thankfully, mostly due to her self-awareness and sense of humor. While “There Goes My Heart” does display her more straightforward, heartfelt lyricism–particularly the section excerpted above–other songs give a different impression of Durack as a songwriter. “Now That I’m Alone” features the offhand admission that “I miss my dog,” a humorous and relatable reminder of the scope of what’s lost at the end of a relationship; “Broken Wings,” again, is the best exemplar of this.

It begins with a jab at ex-lover that’s really a jab at Durack herself: “You’re a special kind of tragic / so naturally I’m attracted to you.” As Durack continues, she makes puns off of Cold Stone Creamery flavors; there’s a lack of self-seriousness here that pulls No Place off the edge of overwrought sentimentality that so many breakup records fall into, and it’s refreshing. Thankfully, it’s never distracting–it’s subtle, and it only works to balance out the lines like “don’t take this the wrong way / but some days you’re just dead weight.” It’s clear, musically and lyrically, that Durack’s found her own voice. She isn’t the next Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, or Lucy Dacus–she’s the first Danielle Durack. But there is a good chance, if she keeps up the quality of No Place, that one day she’ll be as influential as those three.

Disappointing / Average / Good / Great / Phenomenal

Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison

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