Not to Disappear is an apt title for Daughter’s latest album, which sounds like it’s always just on the edge of fading completely into nonexistence. That’s not to say the songs are insubstantial, just that they float very delicately in and out of silence. Daughter has always had a gentle, melancholy sound, and on their latest effort, there’s a subtle undercurrent of anger underneath all the surface beauty of the music. Where their earlier EPs and albums relied on Elena Tonra’s soft, soaring vocal delivery to ground the songs, Not to Disappear uses an electric guitar to construct the central hooks and melodies. Each song starts off simple and ambient, with a few plucked guitar or piano notes behind Tonra’s hushed voice, but builds to a rousing finish, adding one instrument at a time.
Moving on/Just moving in slow motion/To keep the pain to a minimum, she sings on “How”. It’s this lyric that really underscores the emotional truth of this album: loss takes time to overcome, and loneliness can feel endless and brutal. I don’t know you now/But I’m lying here somehow, Tonra says on “Fossa”, her voice simultaneously lifting and blurring the words together. She whispers over and over to herself, I can’t be what you want/I can be what you want. But it doesn’t matter either way, no matter which is the truth, because Not to Disappear takes place in the aftermath, after the dust has long since settled.
The instrumentation is what really shines here, like the driving drums on “Numbers” that could belong easily to a U2 or Muse song: heavy, stomping, and clearly written for an arena show. After a sprawling, sparkling opening on “Doing the Right Thing” that loses the vocals in the shuffle, the songs stops in its tracks as a lone acoustic guitar matches Tonra’s vocal melody while she sings Then I’ll lose my children/Then I’ll lose my love/Then I’ll sit in silence. It’s a rare moment where the lyrics are sung directly into the listener’s ear, with no filter, no layers of atmosphere between the bass notes. The electric guitar (with enough reverb over it to make the National jealous) is the album’s star, particularly on “How”, where it takes over the chorus in a little riff that’s equal parts messy and glorious and melodramatic. It’s one of the best moments on an album filled with great ones.
The songs bleed into each other, with the echoing guitar that opens and closes each track, the tone and tempo that rarely diverges from the simmering, quietly angry melancholy. The only outlier is “No Care”, which is about a minute shorter and at least twice as fast as all the others. Oh, I’m too drunk to fight/hurling curses at your surface, Tonra sings over a frantic dance beat. No care, no care in the world/I don’t care, I don’t care anymore, she says, and you barely believe her.
If I had one complaint, it’s that the simple beauty of the music makes it hard to connect to the emotional weight of the words. Tonra seems to sing the entire album in a light falsetto, never placing any pressure on her voice. The result is that she sounds detached from her lyrics, somewhat hidden in the ambiance, the lush instrumentation. I feel numb/I feel numb in this kingdom, she sings deadpan, and I’d tend to agree. In the kingdom that is Not to Disappear, she sounds numb and exhausted, especially in comparison to that electric guitar, which carries most of the emotional energy of each song.
A thorough listen reminds me of light filtering through a thin, translucent fabric, as if each song’s core is caught between layers of gauze. Beautiful, yes, but almost hidden in the haze, the carefully constructed bleakness of its atmosphere. But a daze of an album isn’t necessarily a bad thing. You can lose yourself in its gossamer beauty, in the expansive, drifting sonic world it creates. If you’re lucky, you might even get to disappear.
Asif Becher is a 16 year old recently discovered cat lady who lives in the desert. She is often asked to “chill” about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Taylor Swift, a suggestion she finds absolutely ridiculous. You can find her on Twitter and on tumblr.