The Ann Arbor alternative soul singer-songwriter reaches deep within her nighttime subconscious to tackle unanswered questions on “Nocturne,” an enchanting six-track, jazz-filled journey that lands in between the lo-fi chillwave world of today and the old Hollywood film scores of yesterday.
Throughout her emotive sonic journey, Darling reveals her inner struggles with breakups, loss, anxiety and depression. The recent passing of her grandfather caused many sleepless nights and served as the overall inspiration behind her debut EP.
“I have a very active dream life so I kept seeing my grandfather on a park bench, and he’d turn to me and open his mouth to say something, but then nothing would ever come out,” said Darling, aka Danielle Davis, who sang in church, choir and theater and listened to musicals with her grandfather while growing up in Tree Town. “I kept having it over and over, and I kept getting ready just in case if I had the dream again, and then each time, nothing.”
To give her late grandfather a voice, Darling wrote “Two for Joy,” a haunting two-minute ode wrapped in lo-fi vintage vocals and delicate acoustic guitars alongside a scratchy, warm vinyl soundscape – “An old man sat down/Removed his little cap/Put his hand to his heart and turned my way/And he said baby girl I know, I know that smile is a voice/He sighed and he said what’s the sorrow, but two for joy.”
“I wanted to give him words to say about why he was there, and I felt like he was probably trying to help me out in my sadness by saying, ‘It’s OK, you’re gonna be all right,’” she said. “The other songs are just a series of random dreams that I had around that same time where I’d turn into a bird or things like that.”
Darling’s dreams also morphed into five additional gorgeous tracks fueled with retro pop sounds, lo-fi aesthetics, old-fashioned vocals, cinematic undertones and slow beats. “Nocturne” evokes late summer evening vibes as Darling takes listeners through a dream sequence that flows from melancholy to self-discovery.
“‘Nocturne’ means literally a night song. In classical music, a nocturne is typically a piano piece. I just think it doesn’t necessarily have to be,” said Darling, who’s influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and old Hollywood film scores. “There are so many different references back to old romantic music with the whole lo-fi movement that you can take something like a nightly piano piece and make it a nice EP.”
All six tracks provide a glimpse into Darling’s mind and evoke a series of short dream-like sequences she might experience on a random night. In total, the EP takes less than 15 minutes to spin and features tracks averaging about two minutes each. “Nocturne’s” brevity makes it sonically digestible, yet it serves as a welcoming nighttime companion on repeat.
“I think people’s attention spans are getting shorter, including mine,” Darling said. “I like the idea of having small, short experiences that people have when they’re listening, and they don’t take up too much time and leave them wanting more.”
The EP’s opening track, “Glow,” features lullaby-like synths paired with vibrant guitars by Joel Harris that beautifully complement Darling’s calm, soothing vocals – “What is a glow?/Do you know?” All we know is “Glow” should be peacefully humming in your earbuds while staring at the night sky.
Another stellar track, “One of Us,” opens with a groovy feel while dream-like voices echo while you’re in REM sleep. Imagine stepping inside your dream-filled mind for one minute when you’re fully awake and watching a vivid scenario quickly unfold.
Meanwhile, “Sentimental” includes a Latin classical guitar riff meshed with Darling’s quiet hums – “Feel the night/Feel it my bones/Stars hang like they’re sewn.” The track conjures a vast star-filled sky on a clear August summer night in your mind’s eye.
“I feel like the lyrics and the theme of ‘Sentimental’ are quintessentially Dani Darling. She’s an experience, she’s caught up in a whimsical moment looking at some flower blossoms and singing about how sad goodbyes are and how it’s OK to be yourself, and if people think you’re weird or don’t get you, then let your freak flag fly,” she said. “I think that’s probably my favorite because I think those are things I’d like to focus on most in my life and in my music. I want to be a beacon of weird sad girl energy.”
Darling introduced that energy last year through two breakout singles “Vinyl Nites + Violet Lites” and “2:22,” which quickly caught the attention of fans in Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti and Detroit. Along with her band The Dreamers, Darling has added a growing roster of live dates at Ziggy’s, Cultivate Coffee & TapHouse, Willis Show Bar, Ann Arbor Summer Festival and Dequindre Cut Freight Yard.
Today, she’s releasing a live version of “Vinyl Nites + Violet Lites” from a July 24 D. Cipher Live Summer Music Series performance at Detroit’s Dequindre Cut Freight Yard. Darling teamed up with Dan McDougall for the live recording.
With a new live recording and EP under her belt, Darling wants to focus on her next project, a full-length album with Joel Harris (guitar), Noor Borealis (bass) and CA Jones (drums) of The Dreamers.
“I’m hoping we’ll have it done by the end of the year, but I know these things take time. I would say my best case scenario would be early 2020,” she said. “I see also maybe releasing a song or two between then. I like to keep leaving stuff for people to listen to. I see myself releasing individual stuff, or we might work on a music video.”