Ethereal. That’s how I would describe Daughter’s debut album If You Leave. The indie trio consists of Elena Tonra, a soft-spoken lyricist vocally capable of tearing apart an emotionally manipulative lover while pleading with him to stay, guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella. In an interview, Elena quips that the record is “about certain breakdowns in certain aspects of life.” As far as the largely ambiguous genre of indie-rock goes, Daughter is known to be refreshingly raw, their debut album no exception.
“Winter” sets a darkly contemplative mood in typical Daughter fashion, by Elena Tonra struggling to face facts about an estranged lover and comparing the previous heat of their relationship to the bitter cold it has become. Frantic guitar riffs and occasionally choppy percussion try to find their balance amid the frost appropriately, as Elena navigates the apparent wintriness of their relationship. Standout lyric: “Drifting apart like two sheets of ice, my love/Frozen hearts growing colder with time.” The reverb on Tonra’s voice conveys the icy yet desperate inferno of a soul in torment. She closes by begging, “Oh, winter come/Oh, winter crush all of the things that I once loved.”
Steadily paced, but no less poignant, “Smother” is Elena Tonra at her peak of despondence, lamenting, “I’m wasted, losing time/I’m a foolish, fragile spine/I want all that is not mine.”
“Youth” is a fiery anthem that involves Elena musing, “And if you’re still breathing, you’re the lucky ones/’Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs/Setting fire to our insides for fun,” over airy guitars and confident percussion. Despite relatively cynical lyrics, there is a quiet understanding that can be felt through the wistful melody, implying that in the despair, there is still hope. In “Still,” a tense relationship is “spiraling down” with “biting words like a wolf howling.” The effects on Elena’s voice make it sound as though she’s singing on one side of a bedroom, a silent observer of the tension between two individuals.
It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly it is about “Tomorrow” that tugs at my heartstrings the most. Maybe it’s the vulnerable lyrics, the frail wobbles of the guitar evolving into resilient chord progressions, the tone of someone who desires something so badly, but knows, “By tomorrow we’ll be lost amongst the leaves/In a wind that chills the skeletons of trees,” and, “By tomorrow I’ll be left in the darkness/Amongst your cold sheets.”
“Human” is a pleasant surprise, pairing dark lyrics this time with a folksy, upbeat tune. “Underneath this skin there’s a human/Buried deep within there’s a human/And despite everything I’m still human,” is a realization of humanity, however deeply buried by affliction.
As dismal as it is, “Touch” evokes visions of a dull-eyed woman hungering for physical gratification, but realizing the emptiness of it. A softly urgent beat implies tenderness, but also infinite sadness. “Love, hunt me down/I can’t stand to be so dead behind the eyes/And feed me, spark me up…So I can feel something.” It exposes the superficiality of relationships that are purely physical, and the emptiness that both individuals are left with when it is all over. “Amsterdam” boasts lyrics like, “I used to dream of adventure/When I was younger…Good night with killing our brain cells/Is this called living?” It’s a song about exploration, running away with someone and returning home, dissatisfied.
If You Leave is a raw, unprecedented album that may make many listeners uncomfortable. In a music industry full of lifeless, soulless music–as if artists are afraid of exposing their human vulnerability–Daughter defies preconceived notions about the callousness of indie-rock. This album unflinchingly explores, both musically and lyrically, the brutal realities of life, which makes it a heavy listen. But if you listen closely enough, through the pain there is an inkling of hope, and that leaves the listener both deeply moved and thoroughly uplifted.
(Click on the album cover at the top if you want to listen for yourself.)