Intimacy sits at the heart of Dannika Horvat’s debut album ‘Gems’. It’s evident not just in the confiding, often stream-of-consciousness lyrics, but in the way she and her band members play off one another with the conversational closeness of longtime friendship.
That makes sense, given that Horvat’s been collaborating with guitarist Liam Parsons and Stefan Blair – better known as Melbourne duo Good Morning – since she first started dabbling in songwriting after buying a cheap bass guitar online. She still plays and writes on the bass, introducing the spindly scaffolding around which Parsons and Blair exchange chiming guitars while Paul Ceraso (from Gordon Koang’s band) contributes crisp, snappy drums.
Compared to the lo-fi scrappiness of Horvat’s 2016 debut EP, ‘Gems’ is cleaner and tighter, settling into detailed guitar-pop that never sits still. Instead, it’s all too active with the layered flow of close-knit communication. Recorded and mixed by Blair, the album still feels casual and unguarded, but the emotional beats hit surprisingly hard. Even when Horbat wonders aloud how horses carry people in the album’s opening line, or when we learn that ‘Gems’ is named for her favourite snack of potato gems, these don’t feel like throwaway details, but authentic facets of a real person.
A writer/filmmaker by trade, Horvat has won awards at film festivals in Melbourne and Sydney. Maybe that’s why she’s so adept at capturing fleeting minutiae in her lyrics and making listeners feel something palpable even in understated lines like “The storm will pass like it always does” (‘Hurricane’) and “This one will take some time” (‘Take Time’). The music may edge toward the breezy, but Horvat sings with a plainspoken yearning that feels uncommonly direct. After singing the title line of lead single ‘I Don’t Wanna Be With Anyone’ against Pavement-esque guitar asides, she repeats the simple, romantic refrain “It’s just you and me, baby” with a notable upswell of emotional commitment.
Again, her filmmaker’s eye transmutes personal anecdotes into broad, relatable vignettes. Based on the time someone gave Horvat wrong directions in order to spend more time in the car with her, ‘Directions’ evokes the giddy feeling of a new crush. The closing ballad ‘Friends’ feels more serious, with its subtle piano and brushed drums against plenty of open space, while the similarly slow-burning ‘Lorne’ underscores the players’ lived-in familiarity with a lovely drag to the already unhurried tempo.
‘Giving It Up’, though, is the emotional centrepiece of ‘Gems’. Recalling the diaristic frankness of fellow Melbourne songwriter Emma Russack, Horvat sings about not getting laid or paid before really laying into her subject: “You’re a grown-ass fucking man / Maybe you should learn how to take care of yourself.”
But it’s not one-sided: she immediately admits that she needs to be taken care of, too. The drums tick away with itchy tension as Horvat and the band devote the song’s back half to a chewy, satisfying jam that completes the album’s appeal: finely tuned emotional canvassing, backed with equally acute musical nuance.
- Release date: January 29
- Record label: Spunk Records/Osborne Again