The almost amusingly relentless pessimism and desolation of Daughter’s second album Not to Disappear is not for those of a nervous disposition who should probably avoid this starkly beautiful and intricate record until they have survived and moved on from the tight grip of January’s gloomy dark days.
This time of year is also indicative of other things, of course – new beginnings and a return to a leaner and a less hysterical normality. There is something of the mundanity of this month that is captured on the 10 tracks here. Mental health problems and loneliness are things that can’t be cured easily if at all through resolutions or seasonal frivolity and it’s that world that Daughter explore unblinkingly.
‘Not to cross myself out, not to disappear,’ Elena Tonra’s possibly futile promise to herself is repeated on opening track ‘New Ways’. Booming bass appears unexpectedly a third of the way through and a shredded guitar interrupts the trip-hop beat, confirming that the folkier elements heard on their debut have been pushed aside in favour of a more muscular and assertive sound.
Learned helplessness stupefies Tonra in the glistening and spare ‘Numbers’: ‘I feel numb in this kingdom, you’d better make me feel better.’ It’s not the only time that you are left feeling pangs of guilt at observing pain that is so wonderfully melodic and gorgeously presented.
‘Doing the Right Thing’ is about dementia but could be referring to the potential, lethal consequences of any mental illnesses. ‘I have lost my children, I have lost my love, I’ll sit in silence and let the picture soak out of televisions,’ intones Tonra.
It’s here the London trio prove not just how far their song writing skills have come but also that they have created a very definable, strong identity for themselves. It’s possible to imagine an artist of the magnitude of PJ Harvey singing a track as plainly tragic as this but with the skilled, light touch required, very few others could pull it off.
‘Alone/With You’ is runner-up for second best track but is several degrees warmer due mainly to a lilting, swaying rhythm and banal lyrical kitchen sink elements which include Tonra’s hatred of eating alone (she repeats this line twice) and how a getting a dog might possibly help.
Rattling, off-to-the-side electronics on Not to Disappear combine with a guitar sound, and the down tempo beats can bring to mind The xx.
‘How’, which has a quiet-loud effect with skulking crawls of verse and washes of synth, is an example of this as is the similar ‘To Belong’, but then the hardcore palate cleanser ‘No Care’ turns up to scare the shit right out of you. ‘There’s only been time when we fucked and it felt like a bad memory, like my spine was a reminder of her and you said you felt sick.’ Manic with an arrogant and fluid indie-guitar line, the beats fire out. Tonra’s throaty vocals brim with rage and self pity. It’s magnificent.
Despite its themes of acute alienation and loss of self, Not to Disappear is an exhilarating and bold record.
Second albums are often a crucial indicator as to whether an artist goes onto greater things, strengthening and fully realising their vision or failing to live up to initial first impressions and slowly fading out. In the three years since their debut, Daughter have resisted a complete reinvention but instead have taken the very good things that were sometimes too buried in that first record and have blown them up and perfected them, regardless of easy criticisms of miserabilism.
Not to Disappear is in many ways the perfect album to be experienced in so-called joyless January, its compassionate plain-speaking can be often oddly reassuring and invigorating.