Chalk up another one to Jeff Buckley‘s Grace: Elena Tonra, whose melancholy, half-whispered vocals rest at the focus of Daughter‘s dark folk-rock, remembers a spark catching when her dad gave her a copy of the album. By then, Buckley had already died.
In a 2013 interview Tonra said she suspected as much from his voice. We’ll give her the benefit of the doubt because sensitivity to the premonitions of death in a voice makes sense for the ravishing, almost-goth Daughter, whose two albums have refined and polished the gloomy folk-rock of their early demos without losing their spare, haunted gravity.
Daughter are international like a royal house — French drummer, Swiss guitarist, English singer — but their early EPs His Young Heart and Wild Youth, delicate extensions of the solo acoustic shows Tonra had been performing around London, were firmly situated in wet, loamy English soil.
Daughter tweaks their original palette, and it is a much happier sound than the sound of death.
The dramatic rumble of “Youth,” which would reappear, cleaner and more confident, on Daughter’s 4AD full-length debut If You Leave, powered alienated-club-kid lyrics (“If you’re still breathing you’re the lucky ones/’Cause most of us are heaving through corrupted lungs/Setting fire to our insides for fun”) that take an inspired step into big-R romantic when they turn abruptly into a breakup screed. If it’s a little melodramatic, just note it’s called “Youth,” and that it conjures an authentic stomach-flipping, butterfly swoon that’s made even more impressive for Tonra’s poised, eerie calm — she never needs to oversell the song’s emotional roil.
The trio’s new album, Not to Disappear, follows the usual trappings of early success for smooth, dramatic indie rock: “Youth” surfacing in Hollyoaks, Grey’s Anatomy and a Tour de France commercial. But they’ve continued their slow, steady refinement. A hazy wall of guitars loom over “Doing the Right Thing” and send a restless dance floor skitter lurching in and out of the particularly gorgeous “Numbers.”
As Tonra becomes a more confident and riskier vocalist, the band around her becomes more expansive and ambitious, deepening and tweaking their original palette. It is a much happier sound than the sound of death.