Friday Awards (January 15, 2021)

Every Friday, I scour the internet for new music releases. The weekly Friday Awards will highlight my favorite discovery each week, with a special emphasis on artists that are new, new-ish, or new to me.

No Place © 2021
released independently

December and January tend to be a slow-down/reset period for the music industry, and I didn’t find any albums from January 1st or 8th that I desperately wanted to write about. As of January 15th, however, the year is full steam ahead! Here are the albums I enjoyed this weekend: Unseen World by J-rock maestros BAND-MAID, whose virtuosic playing steals from the rulebooks of every imaginable sub-genre of pop-rock with an exploratory exuberance; SUCKAPUNCH by English rockers You Me At Six, who have transformed into an interesting version of Imagine Dragons; Amperland, NY, the new live album from Pinegrove, which solidifies how vibrant and electric their concerts are; Until This Shakes Apart, the angry yet upbeat return for alternative ska group Five Iron Frenzy; Blame Game, a solid EP from emo up-and-comers Beach Bunny; Weird Years, a catchy EP from the dependably great Fickle Friends; and The Good Times and the Bad Ones by social media boy band Why Don’t We, which has a decent handful of highlights.

But the winner of this week’s Friday Award is Danielle Durack, whose latest album, No Place, is not just a winner on this blog — it’s a winner, period, as has been noticed by publications ranging from American Songwriter to Pitchfork to NPR. As of writing this review, Durack’s Spotify “monthly listeners” are growing by the thousands every day, but her earlier mini-albums — the perfectly titled Bashful from 2019 and the jazzy 2017 entry Bonnie Rose — suggest that Durack has been a hidden treasure for quite some time. I don’t know whether Durack considers No Place to be her third album or her proper full-length debut, but either way, this ten-song collection shows a stunning amount of identity and musical growth.

I’ve seen Durack receive comparisons to the boygenius crew (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus), and while these comparisons are high praise and certainly accurate, I also see Durack’s simple, honest songcraft having a larger appeal than the aforementioned trio. Her effective dynamics and heart-piercing lyrics are on the same level as the most popular song in the world right now, Olivia Rodrigo‘s “drivers license.” Early on the album, the track “By Now” presents the type of melodies that seem immediately familiar without feeling overused or cliche; and the whole song is backdropped by noises that sound like a shower is running in the background, indicating just how nakedly intimate the album is that you’re about to hear.

There’s an ideal indie-pop balance of polish and rawness throughout this release, such as the slightly out-of-tune keys that punctuate the interludes on “I’ll Try”; the song builds and builds from oddly pitchy sounds into segments that are strangely lush and unexpectedly beautiful. Everything is subdued just enough that you might miss how talented Durack’s backing band is, making clear that no one involved wanted to distract from the focus that’s being placed on Durack’s songs. Without assuming that Durack’s lyrics are autobiographical, there’s a “break-up-album” nature to many of these songs, and as the album proceeds, that topic only grows increasingly poignant rather than getting tired or redundant. It’s not until the second half that you get highlights like the slow-burning “There Goes My Heart” or the groovy “Don’t Know If I’ll Stick Around,” which reminded me of Men I Trust and added a nice dose of energy into the proceedings. Then there’s the closer “Eggshells,” which, (rather than being a throwaway track stuffed towards the back of the listing), contains some of the album’s sharpest writing and feels like the preceding nine tracks were all intended to culminate with this.

Last year, I discovered my AOTY in the first weeks of January, and as we enter 2021, Durack has already given us a strong album-of-the-year contender. But putting aside thoughts of lists and rankings for now, I can’t help but think of No Place as an album that I’ll keep returning to in months to come (not to mention her back catalog, which I’ve quite enjoyed, Bonnie Rose especially). At this point, there’s no place for Danielle Durack to go but up.

Author’s Note: The reason I created this website and write these articles stems from my belief that artists should support other artists, in the same way that art inspires art. My debut album Unfall is out now, and I’d love for you to hear it. My sophomore album Development & Compromise is currently available for pre-order.

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