Review Summary: Nothing stable.
Few bands plumb the darker end of the emotional spectrum as adeptly as Daughter; for all the beauty in Elena Tonra’s voice, hers is an icy one, liable to crystallize into points sharp enough to draw blood rather than lull you into something resembling resolution. There was something to be said, though, for how naked that voice was. 2013’s If You Leave
was a wrenching study of heartbreak, despair, and generally all the things that pop music wraps up to sell you in a pretty major-key bow. Though Tonra’s voice is suited for arenas and the band’s lush, grim melodies revealed as many dimensions as their leader, If You Leave
was uncompromising and downright punishing, a harder meal to choke down than the bloody shots that were the groups' twin 2011 EPs. Sadness sells, though, and given the personal and professional success Tonra and Daughter have enjoyed over the years, it’s impressive that sophomore effort Not to Disappear
rarely relents. First single “Doing The Right Thing” is a devastating portrait of memory loss and a tribute to Tonra’s Alzheimer’s-stricken grandmother outlined by spartan drumming and a solitary guitar melody, and suffice to say that the rest of the record isn’t all sunshine and lollipops.
What makes this a compelling listen in Daughter’s catalogue, however, and a promising sign of growth, is how Not to Disappear
sounds much more like a Daughter record instead of an Elena Tonra showcase, however inseparable the two might appear. Opener “New Ways” is a beautifully constructed song, filling in the details of Tonra’s psychological storm with layers of guitar and ominous percussion, an atmosphere that feels as lived in as Tonra’s ethereal vocals. The band emits a confidence that, while not necessarily lacking in prior releases, is much more prevalent in the arrangements here, whether that’s in the frantic rhythms of “Numbers” or the jagged, rippling alt-rock of “No Care,” which tips a respectful hat to Florence and the Machine. “Fossa” is a seven-minute epic that starts off as a fairly rote Daughter dirge and then goes spelunking, carefully exploring its own textures before exploding outward into an extended and cathartic instrumental outro, Tonra’s repeated mantra of “you can be what you want” perhaps a little on the nose but affecting nonetheless. That the band push the song to its noisy conclusion without any help from Tonra at all highlights an optimistic future for the group.
That’s not to say that Daughter don’t know where their bread is buttered: “Mother,” situated knowingly in the middle of the record, is another soft-spoken monument to Tonra’s voice and lyrics that make a more universal struggle as affecting as the relationship surgery that usually inform these songs: “When your face becomes a stranger’s I don’t know / you will never remember who I was to you / carried in the womb.” For all the confessionals that Daughter have penned over the years, few are as touching as this one and “Doing The Right Thing,” largely other point of views given haunting life by Tonra. It’s a small change, but it’s one that allows Daughter to double down on the bruised and burning melancholy that is Daughter’s lifeblood without exhausting it. If anything, Not to Disappear
is as bleak and painful as its predecessors, but it balances that with an adventurousness in composition and a clarity in storytelling that makes these reminders of love and loss almost reassuring. Experience may be a cruel messenger, but Daughter’s success comes not from pulling away, but from embracing that. In doing so, Not to Disappear
comes out the other side, not beaten and lost but vibrant and alive.