Album Review: Daughter – Not to Disappear

By on Friday, 15th January 2016 at 12:00 pm

Daughter NTD coverLondon alt-folk trio Daughter will begin 2016 with the release of their highly anticipated sophomore studio album ‘Not to Disappear’. Singer/guitarist Elena Tonra, guitarist/producer Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella spent the summer of 2015 in New York recording the album with Nicolas Vernhes (Deerhunter, War On Drugs, Animal Collective) at his Rare Book Room studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn.

Not wanting to fall victim to the dreaded second album slump, Daughter have taken an ambitious, almost Wagnerian approach to this second album, working with a larger team of artists to provide a narrative and visual background for their music. The first two videos released from the album, ‘Doing the Right Thing’ and ‘Numbers’, represent parts one and two of a video trilogy created by filmmakers Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard. The videos themselves are based on a series of short stories commissioned specifically for this purpose, penned by acclaimed fiction writer Stuart Evers.

The video for ‘Doing the Right Thing’ is based on Evers’ short story ‘Dress’, which explores the bitter anguish of losing a parent to old age and dementia. Tonra’s stream-of-consciousness lyrical lines are remarkably apropos in this context. Her vaguely related ideas flow together without overt regard for cognizant sequence, yet still developing the story line. The song’s opening lyrical hook “and they’re making children / and they’re making love / with their old excuses / we are built for reproduction” picks up in the middle of an existential musing about becoming disconnected from one’s family, and even from oneself. The heartbreaking second verse plays an emotional trick on the mind with warm, atmospheric tones and pleasant poetry before slowly turning cold: “then I’ll take my clothes off / and I’ll walk around / because it’s so nice outside / and I like the way the sun feels / and when it’s dark / I’ll call out in the night for my mother / but she isn’t coming back for me / ‘cos she’s already gone”.

The symbolic red dress from the ‘Doing the Right Thing’ video appears again in the video for ‘Numbers’, where it is worn by a cool, calculating seductress who callously uses and abuses the people around her. The repeated lyrics “I feel numb” and “you better . . . make me better” are both ominous and pleading, as if the character is searching for something more. The source of the character’s conflict is undefined, but her disconnection from the world parallels the disconnection of the aging mother in the previous video. And while the character in ‘Numbers’ claims to feel numb, the music itself is anything but, beginning straight away with a knot of dramatic tension that grows over a nervously propulsive drum beat, then finally relaxes in a slow cadential section that comes as sweet relief at the end.

It remains to be seen which song will complete the video trilogy, but according to the album’s press release from 4AD, the analogous Evers story is titled ‘5,040’. It seems certain that the mysterious red dress will make a final appearance. The most obvious choice would probably be the delicately crystalline track ‘Mothers’, in which Tonra sings about the sacrifices of motherhood that go unnoticed by children. Her lyrics inexplicably shift back and forth from first-person to third-person perspective in a way that seems to refer back to ‘Doing the Right Thing’. This is evidenced particularly in the lines “give all you need to give / but sometimes they won’t take what they need to take / strangers, chemical reactions inside of her brain / oh, she’s not the same”.

The remainder of the songs on Daughter’s ‘Not to Disappear’ are connected in that they explore the ephemerality of human relationships and the sense of disconnection that can occur when a relationship breaks down. Album opener ‘New Ways’ attempts to reestablish a sense of emotional connection in the elegantly syncopated lyrical lines “I’m trying to get out / find a subtle way out / not to cross myself out / not to disappear / I’ve been trying to stay out / but there’s something in you / I can’t be without / I just need it here”. Its serpentine guitar riffs and echoing percussion surge into a pulsing instrumental bridge ahead of that statement and thereafter expand into a full onslaught of sound under Tonra’s cool, markedly detached vocals. There is a touch of ’80s synth pop in the cool vocals and shimmering guitar sounds of ‘How’, but here the instrumentation is more dynamically expansive, while the chugging bass underscores the idea that “moving on / is moving in slow motion / to keep the pain to a minimum”.

Standout track ‘Alone/With You’ is another brilliant example of Daughter’s unconventional lyrical sequencing and breathtaking musical sensitivity. The jarringly robotic rhythm is accompanied by a harshly mechanical, almost industrial sounding instrumentation. As sounds are added to the ever-evolving orchestral milieu, the poetic lines are repeated but in shifting order, juxtaposing subtle shades of meaning and hidden layers of emotion. In contrast, ’No Care’ is a straightforward spitfire purge of emotion after a bad sexual encounter, thematically similar to the earlier ‘Numbers’. Tonra saves her best singing for the end of the album, proving the harnessed power of her full singing voice in ‘To Belong’ and again in the exquisite sensitivity of final track ‘Made of Stone’.

‘Not to Disappear’ is a brave and decisive step forward from the fragile, ethereal tones of Daughter’s 2013 debut ‘If You Leave’. Here, the trio have graduated from indie folk to fully-fledged art rock, their broad vision deftly combining difficult subject matter with bold, expansive musical arrangements on a sonically and emotionally courageous second album.


Daughter’s sophomore album ‘Not to Disappear’ is out today via 4AD/Glassnote. Daughter begin a tour of the UK tonight in Cambridge; you can find a listing of live dates here.  TGTF’s previous coverage of Daughter can be found right back this way.

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