If You Leave (2013) ★ ★ ★ 1/2
The debut album from English indie folk group Daughter is cashing up on the winter sorrow, envisaging a wretched world akin to the heartbreak town of Adele. Sharing the production work of ‘xx’ (Rodaih McDonald), If You Leave is a moody, atmospheric exploration of all the anxieties, setbacks, regrets and (I hate to say it) adolescent angst of the modern youth. The production is tight and guitar work intricate but if it weren’t for the temperate outbursts at the chorus, it would make for a very depressing listen.
Daughter have a very clear aesthetic – at the root are folk arrangements with broad reverb, haunting melodies and vocals from Elena Tonra fragile and whispering. It is a very personal approach to music and openly expressive. Far from optimistic – If You Leave is one to either listen attentively to poetic lyrics or enjoy the soundscape from afar.
The album begins with enveloping, ethereal sounds in “Winter” reminiscent of Cocteau twins. It is melancholy from the start: “Drifting apart like two sheets of ice, my love,/frozen hearts growing colder with time.” Following on, “Smother” is less spacey, riding a deeper groove and feature Florence-style cascading back vocals. You’ve got to wonder what England does to people’s state of mind with the group churning out lyrics like: “I sometimes wished I stayed inside my mother/never to come out”
A standout single is “Youth” – it is fast-moving and dynamic, breaking into heavy percussion and deep piano chords that make for an addictive listen. It has a textured layering which belongs more to an indie rock/dream pop release (I feel Beach House here especially with those shimmering cymbals).
Tonra’s voice has been criticised for being too weak and hushed but there is an integrity which saves the music - and thanks to the English for proper annunciation, she doesn’t completely obscure the lyrics.
“Lifeforms” and “Tomorrow” are two of the darkest tunes, spilling forth stories of lost children and deserted lovers. “Still” has a great groove in the chorus and epic electric guitar in between verses and “Human” has a go at answering all of life’s critical questions: “My mind’s lost in bleak visions/trying to escape but keep thinking.”
After a while the haunting melancholy tone becomes numb and the navel-gazing weary, save the flashes of fury in chorus outbreaks. It is at once bittersweet and subdued, delicate and articulate while heavily soaked in angst and existential crises.
If You Leave is an intimate listen – not yet at the point of weaving characters into folk such as classics Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. Tonra’s voice is so romantic it almost verges into the Twilight-zone (don’t go/I need you/I’m dying without you). Nevertheless, there is some beautiful music in there and it will be atmospheric in the crisp, wintery parklands of Byron Bay come Splendour in the Grass this July.
Published on adamNOTeve.