Question: just how do you go about trying to match an album as peerless, wholly immersive, and as widely acclaimed and adored as Daughter’s 2013 debut If You Leave? Simple: up the ante on every level. Building on that record’s gloriously dark intensity, wracked emotion and come-hither diaphanous textures, Not To Disappear, the new full-length release from the London-based trio – singer/guitarist Elena Tonra, guitarist/producer Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella – is a mighty declaration of intent. Profoundly ruminative and lugubrious, bold and direct, it’s arguably even more assertive and compelling than its much-lauded predecessor.
Produced by Haefeli and Nicolas Vernhes (Animal Collective, Deerhunter, The War On Drugs), Not To Disappear finds Daughter evolving in interesting ways. Recorded in New York, at Vernhes’ studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, there are the usual intricate dynamics at play – Tonra’s gauzy, fragile voice, delivering powerful, anguished words detailing her inner turmoil, fusing seamlessly with Haefeli’s tight, melodic guitar sounds and Aguilella’s rolling drums – but the sound, oozing with depth and resonance, feels infinitely richer. It’s properly intoxicating stuff: Numbers soars and swoops through exhilarating crescendos, as Tonra recites the song’s mantra – “I feel numb/I feel numb in this kingdom” – over and over; and Fossa, like some majestic convergence of Radiohead and Sigur Rós, is possibly one of Daughter’s most euphoric moments yet.
“A lot of it started with individual ideas,” says Tonra. “Igor would write some instrumental stuff, and I would go away and write more tracks, learning how to use Logic, and how to realise something in a fuller way than just guitar and voice. As it moved along it went through various stages, sounding better and better.”
The signature motifs are still very much in evidence, but there’s a real sense of the trio opening up to new ideas. Although making the record wasn’t the easiest of rides, co-producer Vernhes was key in bringing the group out of themselves. “Nicolas was wonderful,” says Tonra. “We’d been living in London, and demoing and writing here – we’re perfectionists, pulling in different directions – so it was really beneficial to go somewhere else to record it, just for a change of scene. Working with Nicolas was a real injection of energy.”
“I’m a control freak, so it’s hard to let go,” adds Haefeli, “but I found a lot in common with him, as much in our positive sides as in our faults. He brought a quality of recording that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. And he’s just a fun person to be around.”
Haefeli has spoken previously about wanting to expand the band’s sound into increasingly widescreen realms, and Not To Disappear duly bigs it up; this time, there’s distinctly more dramatic ebb and flow, as quiet intimacy lurches into thrilling kaleidoscopic expanses, noticeably more epic and ambitious in scope than the Daughter of just a couple of years ago. “To me, music is like a very fragile Jenga,” he says. “You move one piece, then you have to move another piece to balance it. Elena is much more of a ‘pure’ artist – for her, it’s always about capturing the ‘moment’. In that way, we’re polar opposites, but I think that’s what brings some of the magic to it.”
Magic is right: this time, Daughter feel like an entirely new, different and increasingly fearless proposition, the alchemy of their music – more resonant and emphatic, even louder in
places – somehow doubly alluring. They go flat-out and turn up the volume throughout, as Haefeli’s beefed-up, majestic guitar lines surge and reverberate with renewed urgency and purpose, cut through by Aguilella’s unflinchingly muscular, red-blooded drumming – all of it gilded by a gorgeous electronic undertow.
The lyrics – always Tonra’s domain – are more forthright, too, an even more honest reflection of her ever-questioning state of mind. “Expressing your emotions isn’t a weakness but a real strength,” she says, somehow empowered, her new-found confidence palpable. “I think with this album, there’s less hiding. I used to hide a lot of my themes in poetry, but now, there’s no veil.
“The first song we wrote for the record, New Ways, was like opening another window. The album title comes from that song, and for me, as the lyricist, it’s an important message. The older I get, the more I’m saying ‘this is who I am’.”
Not To Disappear has its unexpected bursts of uptempo energy, as on the propulsive stomp of No Care – consciously striving to mix things up, and about as lyrically direct and embittered (“There’s only been one time where we fucked, and i felt like a bad memory”) as Tonra has ever been. “I go around collecting memories and feelings, and when I press record, stuff just… spills.”
“Drifting apart like two sheets of ice” sings Tonra wistfully on Winter (from If You Leave), and lyrically, it’s an over-arching motif that carries through here, with loss, alienation and loneliness as prevalent themes. On Alone/With You in particular, she’s brutally forthright (“I hate sleeping with you/Just a shadowy figure with a blank face/Kicking me out of his place”), laying bare her innermost feelings and neuroses. “Writing has always been a bit cathartic for me,” she admits. “It’s almost therapeutic – I don’t know how I would be if I didn’t write.”
Famously guarded about revealing the meaning to her lyrics, the singer remains keen to retain a little mystique (“I never want to explain things too much – what I’ve said in the song is the most I want to say, and the rest is up for interpretation”), but, emotionally unshackled, she seems less worried these days about how her words might be interpreted. “It’s a little bit ‘fuck you’ now,” she says, bristling with defiance. “The new songs came out in a way where my writing was different from before. Initially, it freaked me out because I thought I had writer’s block, but I realised it was just how my brain was working.
“On this record, I’ve gone to places I maybe wouldn’t have been that comfortable with before. I guess there are a lot more sexual references, that kind of lonely interpretation of sex – I don’t know if many other people have spoken about it that way. But I thought, if my brain isn’t trying to hide this stuff, then it obviously means I should talk about it. It feels like I’m being braver, which is liberating.”
Daughter come to Cambridge Corn Exchange on 15th. Click here to buy tickets.
Doing The Right Thing’ is the first single to be taken from Daughter’s forthcoming new album ‘Not To Disappear’, which will be released on the 15th January 2016 via 4AD/Glassnote.