Daughter – ‘If You Leave’

The London trio’s debut is wistful and sad. But over a whole album the endless sorrowing gets a bit much

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. Production comes from Rodaidh McDonald of ‘xx’ fame, and it shares that record’s pillow-talk intimacy – though this pillow is the cold one Ian Curtis sang of, in a record full of love affairs frozen in a million sad, set little ways. Recent single ‘Smother’ opens on a delicate throb and flutter of guitar, Tonra hymning her own brokenness: “I want him, but we’re not right… I’m sorry if I smothered you/Sometimes I wish I’d stayed inside my mother.”

The purity of the unashamed navel-gazing is undoubtedly beautiful, as is the sultry sorrow of ‘Winter’, with the soft licks like dying embers and Tonra whispering, “I needed you to run through my veins like disease”. The only problem is, over a whole album, the endless sorrowing gets a bit much. The tone is pretty uniform, bar the more animated ‘Human’, which wakes you from wistfulness with a skippily folky rhythm guitar and a tremblingly heart-in-mouth drum-rolled chorus. And though the chirrup and mope of ‘Youth’ tugs at your heart, when Tonra asserts “We are the reckless, we are the wild youth” you can’t help but raise an eyebrow. Not even Tim Burton’s life is this spooky all the time, and both musically and lyrically, Daughter ain’t half as clever as they clearly think they are (people get serious and clever mixed up a lot, weirdly).

Their sonic world is close to that of Esben And The Witch, but their moments of grandiose despair are more tasteful, their flashes of fury less intense, the temptation to shout “oh, man up and have a biscuit” always closer to hand. Also, for all their subtle little details, as NME’s Reviews Editor Tom Howard once memorably put it, there’s an element of Lucy Rose Sings Post-Rock here that could be beefed up into something really affecting. They’re not a very leftfield band, so why not go embrace the mainstream and write some songs that can swim?

Thankfully the spareness of ‘If You Leave’ leaves a lot of room to grow. There’s beauty here in heaps, and by leaning a bit less hard on the heartbreak pedal, turning down the reverb and letting that wild youth out a bit more, they can become a Daughter we’re truly proud to call our own.

Emily Mackay

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