Release Date: Apr 30, 2013
Record label: Glass Note
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Some albums are almost too painful to listen to. When an artist pours every ounce of their soul and being into their music the result can be thrilling, particularly when the insights offered open the doors to experiences that may well be totally unfamiliar. The emotional honesty that informs every second of Daughter’s first album is so raw and so damaged that it actually becomes quite frightening.
Stream the record in full here. A few weeks back a guy I know was bemoaning his girlfriend’s risible taste in music, and asked if I had any recommendations that might coax her away from the Les Miserables soundtrack that was apparently accompanying most of their time together. Foolishly, I directed him towards Daughter, the London three-piece led by Elena Tonra, figuring that there was little chance that she could fail to be won over.
Despite its many virtues, the digital era has had a fairly negative impact on the western world’s attention span. Thanks to back catalogue-swallowing jukeboxes like Spotify and Soundcloud, shifting focus from track to track, album to album or artist to artist has never been easier. In this age of eternal distraction, rarely does a collection of songs come together to ferment in the ear canals for longer than a few spins.
London singer-guitarist Elena Tonra, or Daughter, likes her single word song titles. There are 10 of them on her debut album, If You Leave, and the economy she brings to labeling is a reflection of the concentrated themes that ripple through this record. Potent images of life and death entwine with the ever-present subject of lost love. The album is a catalogue of heartbreak; a song cycle of such damaged fallout that it begs the question of who these heartless bastards just might be.
If you’re like me, you have a good number of Cure albums in your music library. If you’re even more like me, you also set your viewing preference to “albums” so you get to see all of the pretty covers as you scroll down and amaze your friends with your vast collection of (entirely legal) music. Well, in my case, nothing comes between The Cure and Daughter, and I often can’t find If You Leave because it fits in so well.
Given its beginnings as Elena Tonra's solo project, it would be easy to assume that Daughter is just another singer/songwriter act with a couple of supporting musicians. However, over the course of If You Leave, Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli, and drummer Remi Aguilella make it clear that this is the work of a band. Together, they swing between moments of close-up intimacy and widescreen majesty, often during the course of one song.
Elena Tonra talks about living in negation of everything else. “Underneath the skin there’s a human / Buried deep within there’s a human / And despite everything I’m still human”, she sings on “Human”, listing the callousness of others and the trials of her life as proof that, well, things go on. She’s reacting to what’s happened throughout If You Leave, calling herself a fool and giving out backhanded apologies (“I’m sorry if I smothered you”, she admits like sorry means something else), but for “Human” she seems to focus on what’s internal to her, and what no one else can quite get at.
London trio Daughter make music for troubled souls and broken hearts – but there's no consolation in their debut album, only an echo of misery. The opening song, Winter, has frontwoman Elena Tonra singing of lovers "drifting apart like two sheets of ice", while desolate guitars skitter and slide, as though attempting to skate back to lost tenderness. Youth, first released on an EP two years ago, alternates sounds fragile as a spider's web with blasts of trebly guitar and crashing drums, both hushed by Tonra's caustic line: "If you're in love then you are the lucky one/ Because most of us are bitter over someone." Tomorrow sways and sighs with the desperate thought of loss; in Human, the squealing guitar sounds like an animal's cries.
Would you let a daughter of yours out of the house like this? Draped in mourning weeds, pallid and sad? It’s a get-up that’s certainly drawn plenty of welcome attention to 4AD’s latest bearers of the wistful and gothic flame (cut them and they bleed cobwebs) . They’re very much the sort of band to set pained young hearts a-flutter, and for the most part deservedly. Singer/guitarist Elena Tonra has the sort of sobbing, whispering mope of a voice that haunts your soul, and the many subtle colours of grey she and her bandmates paint their debut are something to wonder at.
Daughter, a London trio fronted by Elena Tonra, make bruised folk music that recalls Laura Marling and a host of singer-songwriters for whom fragility is synonymous with beauty. Set against layered washes of sound, Tonra's voice is breathy and sweet and unremarkable, breaking sometimes into a wrenched whisper, that should be heartbreaking but, more often than not, is just a bit grating. On Smother, a tear-stained teenage diary, vibes reach a nadir when she sings: "I sometimes wish I'd stayed inside my mother/ Never to come out" – followed by a chorus of ethereal "oohs" that doesn't help the sense of suffocation.
Sold-out gigs, extensive radio play, escalating hype; for an act still very much in its infancy, London-based Daughter find themselves riding a frothing crest of attention, and not just on UK shores – the fledgling trio (singer Elena Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella) are even tentatively breaking the US, having graced The Late Show With David Letterman at the tail-end of last year. It made for a mesmerising performance that in years to come might well end up as a key defining moment in the life of Daughter. This began in 2010 as an outlet for Tonra's musings (after she and Haefeli met at music college), and following 2011's brace of accomplished, independently-released EPs (His Young Heart and the bewitching The Wild Youth), Daughter became the latest addition to 4AD's towering roster last year, lining up alongside relative newbies Purity Ring and Grimes, and more established acts such as The National, Scott Walker and Bon Iver.
A damaged debut, the way the hues of its bruises blend proving wholly hypnotic. Mike Diver 2013 Something about roses and thorns, of surface beauty masking elements more menacing. Search online a little and this is a common tact when addressing the music of London-based trio Daughter. And with good reason: theirs is a sound instantly enchanting of design.
Following on from a pair of well-received EPs in ‘The Young Heart’ and ‘The Wild Youth’, the London three-piece have set themselves up rather nicely for a full-scale assault on the nation’s ears for their debut record. A quick look at the credits for ‘If You Leave’ reveal they aren’t mucking about, either. With the record featuring production input from the likes of Rodaidh McDonald (The xx, Adele) and Ken Thomas (M83, Sigur Ros) the ingredients are certainly there for a stellar first full-length, but have they pulled it off?Early tracks such as album-opener ‘Winter’ and ‘Youth’ demonstrate Daughter’s ability to take the minimalism of plaintive guitars and Elena Tonra’s breathy vocals, and via the addition of some mortar-shell drums and a healthy dose of songwriting nous turn it into something altogether more arresting and dramatic.