Rarely have heartbreak and gloom sounded sexier than when in the hands of London-based singer-guitarist Elena Tonra. She and bandmates Igor Haefeli and Remi Aguilella are experts at crafting a cold sonic landscape that’s equal parts lush and sterile, inviting and terrifying. Maybe the scariest part is that stepping over the threshold and entering their dark world is so easy; Tonra’s gentle voice is one that would be equally well suited to lullabies. Fittingly, the combined efforts of Tonra and Haefeli’s nimble guitar work evokes a sense of dark wonder. In the world of Daughter’s sophomore album, as in their entire canon thus far, everything is big, everything is a superlative, everything is a catastrophe.
Not to Disappear builds on many of the same themes that dominated 2013’s If You Leave, but with an added layer of universality. Tonra isn’t just speaking from her own perspective this time; instead, there’s an urgent sense that she’s speaking for everyone who has ever encountered the same emotional quagmire. For those that may not have experienced these kinds of life-wrecking events and the subsequent debilitation, the music itself is meticulously orchestrated and compelling, just as appropriate for a cloudy day as it is for the empty afternoon after a funeral. Tonra once sang “I want you so much/ But I hate your guts,” as though it were the most natural thing in the world. Not to Disappear, on the other hand, is imbued with a greater sense of empathy, as though she is gazing at the world instead of her own navel. I know you have garbage feelings too, she seems to be saying; we all do. Get them out.
“Doing the Right Thing” finds the vocalist, via a series of abstract characters, grappling with mortality, loss, and the sometimes futile inevitability of people falling in love and having babies. “We are built for reproduction,” she sings, a clinically cold assessment that nevertheless explains so much of why we do what we do. She seems to be suggesting its all a little pointless, leaving all her uncertainty hanging in the air. “And they’re making children, everyone’s in love, I just sit in silence, let the pictures soak,” she sings over precise guitars, a wash of distorted synths, and Aguilella’s massive drums.
The sense of isolation builds in “Alone/With You”, which finds Tonra bemoaning the loathing she feels for eating, walking, living alone — but she shares the same distaste for doing those same things with the unnamed “you.” “I should get a dog or something,” she mutters, knowing as well as the listener that that won’t even begin to scratch the surface of solving her problems. On the more uptempo “No Care”, Tonra deadpans that no one asks her for dances because she only knows how to flail along to something akin to ‘90s goth girl bands like Jack Off Jill.
Daughter’s previous work had been criticized for being too gloomy, that Tonra was just too damn sad — but it’s hard to fault the girl for singing to her truth, even if it is such a bleak one. Not to Disappear grapples with this as well, but in the end, the only reprieve Tonra can find is detachment. “What if I’m made of stone?” she asks in a hushed tone on the album’s final track. “Love, it’s just facepainting.” After all, the flip side of emotional trauma is not being able to feel anything at all.
Essential Tracks: “Doing the Right Thing”, “Alone/With You”, and “No Care”