Daughter – If You Leave
by Jack Reid
Daughter, a folk triplet out of London, debut with their first full length album release If You Leave. Their themes and style, developed over three EPs, are consistently melancholy and contemplative. Daughter’s signature sound is the piercingly airy vocals of Elena Tonra and bleeding-heart guitar, punctuated by rustles of drums here and there. There is little deviation from that formula, and that is my problem with the album.
The opening song, Winter, has interesting touches such as the reversed guitar that slowly fades us into the familiar ‘snowy forest at night’ aesthetic. Then there are the rattlings of rimshots around the two minute mark, applied in a style not unlike Local Natives in their first album. The features add some interest to what would otherwise be a relatively same-y track.
By far, the strongest track is Youth, which many will already know from their previous EP. The arrangement balances Elena’s emotionally controlled vocals with booming toms to create a trajectory of swelling bittersweet. Daughter seem to specialise in creating intense feelings of stillness and nostalgia, and this track is a prime example of that talent. The two singles ‘Smother’ and ‘Still’ do little for me; they exhibit the trademark of echoey instrumentation and frankly, practicable lyricism.
The danger with the format of an album is that over the thirty minute mark, you begin to notice the lack of variety in the lyrics altogether. There are of course themes in the album, but there is also the tendency to wear out concepts like children, limbs, skin and darkness. There are far too many invocations of ‘mother’ and the like for it to keep having any emotional impact. The album is certainly conceptually cohesive to the extreme, but it loses out in that nothing surprises. You could make a Daughter song generator that would spit out similarly formulaic angst anthems and notice little difference. I also noticed an increased resemblance of Elena’s vocals to those of the hallowed Florence Welch. As Daughter’s drum arrangement relies more and more on those big booms that slightly precede a great outpouring of emotion, their sound drifts closer and closer to that of Florence and the Machine. This effect simply adds to the feeling of there being nothing new here.
That is not to say that there is no enjoyment to be found in this album. If you don’t mind letting the music wash over you, there’s beauty in the layers of airy vocals and instrumentation. Shut yours eyes and before long you’re certain you’re in an environment not unlike that on the cover of the album. There are moments when the elements align and create something lovely, like the final breakdown of ‘Tomorrow’, which despite using those aforementioned drum patterns, builds a cathartic crescendo that can’t help but be enjoyed. Though I don’t care much for the lyrics, I appreciate the band’s venture into the upbeat side of folk with ‘Human’.
If You Leave is not a bad album. It is a continuation upon a theme that I had hoped would be expanded upon and broadened out. Daughter have certainly developed a sound, but that sound is so narrow that they verge on becoming completely formulaic, a problem much more pronounced over an entire album of sad forests and children’s outstretched limbs.
Oh, and all the song names sound like perfumes.