‘Drifting apart like two sheets of ice, my love/Frozen hearts growing colder with time/There's no heat from our mouths/Please take me back to my rich youth’. A none too cheery opening to the debut album from safety in sound favourites Daughter, but a telling one. Having built their fast ascent on nostalgic, twisted romance and cold, sparse instrumentation, they have been an exciting prospect for months, but not exactly one you’d chuck on at your Bar Mitzvah.
To someone like me, this is cause for celebration. Music is often at its most magical when it’s miserable, and in that sense, the three piece from London are a gift. With their E.P The Wild Youth introducing us to one of the most heartbreaking songs of modern times (the simply titled Love), I held high hopes for the lyricism of Elena Tonra, the dark haired young woman who’s soft vocals have seen her compared to everyone from Cat Power to Florence And The Machine, but are still somehow nowhere near either.
If You Leave is her and her bands chance to state their intent, and they do so with a masterful stroke. Each instrument is placed with care, layered and textured in such a way that makes them sound both much bigger and much smaller than their three piece status would suggest. The concert I saw them play in a church a few months ago suddenly makes a lot more sense – it is a debut record with an almost puritanical, holy reverence about it, demanding hushed attention.
Opening track Winter holds echoes of Wild Beasts twin tracks Two Dancers I and II in it’s tribal drums and delicate piano, a band I’m sure they will be fans of. Ideal of art over music are imprinted quickly in its shadowy vocal and dynamic rise mid song. Embodying it’s title perfectly, it’s an eerie but beautiful start, like snowfall in the middle of the night.
Aside from Smother and Youth, which Daughter fans will already be familiar with from past EP's, the record is peppered with highlights, mostly at the hands of Tonra’s lyricism. It’s clear that she is a deep and introspective woman, with pain behind her eyes and years. One gets the impression that life in Daughter is true diary-esque cathartic for her. Stand out track Lifeforms plays out like the soundtrack to a channel 4 drama, elegant and simple in its comparison of the fragility of life to that of insects. Its sharp, dramatic and intelligent without being melodramatic – the sort of stuff that will have Laura Marling pulling her hair out in jealousy.
Even so, it pales in significance to closing track Shallows, in essence the title track, that invites a tear within its opening 5 seconds. As Tonra implores ‘let it all rain down/from the blood stained clouds/come out, come out, to the sea my love/And just drown with me’, she is a modern tragedy writer, evoking romance in the most old fashioned of senses, with that dark, morbid undertone that she does so well. In conjunction with the other startlingly emotional yet matter of fact lyrics that burst out from If You Leave (‘Sometimes I wish I’d stayed inside my mother/Never to come out’ from Smother and ‘I was thinking that I should see someone/Just to find out that I'm alright’ from Amsterdam as just two examples) perhaps there are demons that are still knocking at her door. Maybe their next record will see her confront them head on. It'll make for some very interesting listening. Until then, Daughter have created 10 songs of blissful misery that have dumbfounded me to the extent that I think this may well be the shortest album review I have ever written. This does to them no disservice – it’s well on the way to being my record of the year, for reasons I'm sure I only partly understand.