Published on my personal blog, January 10th 2016
Daughter lead singer and songwriter Elena Tonra says that she was chiefly inspired to pick up songwriting after listening to a copy of Jeff Buckley’s Grace. It’s a influence that continues to have impact – both on debut album If You Live and this, her second effort. The emotional sparseness on both is broken only by clean and precise guitar sounds owes much to Buckley. It was an approach that really bore fruit on the debut album, with the space that a lack of instrumentation left filled with a combination of Tonra’s supreme voice, her lyrics (‘And if you’re still bleeding, you’re the lucky ones/ ‘Cause most of our feelings, they are dead and they are gone’) and straightforward emotion which came from somewhere else.
On the first track of the new album – New Ways – it almost sounds like she’s just repeated the trick, with added warmth.But then a significant and surprising bonus arrives – a heavy crash into a strong, melody driven guitar solo, a statement of difference and progression. It’s a successful attempt to keep one foot in both the old and the new, as Daughter finds value in contrasting layers of sound with silence. It’s a value that Daughter uses to examine herself to an increased extent, covering a broader range of emotions than previously.
But on some of the latter tracks contrast sometimes sounds forced and reluctant. The solos and other contrasting parts are awkward, and you can sense she’d rather not be doing them. The lack of commitment and therefore contrast leaves Daughter in no man’s land, between the sparseness of the first album and the powerful soft rock of the first track of the album. The consequent mess isn’t helped by its lack of melody. The songs begin to sound empty, and not in an intimate, sparse way.
That’s not really a fair impression of the album though, because there are some notable exceptions to this ambiguity. How and Mothers perfectly showcase the old and newer Daughter sounds respectively, with How sounding regrettably identical to New Ways and Mothers leaving out the vital, magic ingredient of the first album – emotion. Made Of Stone also falls into this category, despite admirable lyrics. But No Care and Fossa are real examples of an artist attacking a song. They involve the energy necessary for Daughter to be able to abandon her the sparse sound of the first album, and offer a way forward for her.
Even these songs, though, lack real melody. They lack a final punch. Daughter may well have laid the groundwork for a successful, more energetic album but this isn’t it.