If You Leave

Written by: DR on 12/09/2013 21:42:47

Love, and consequently the loss of it, is the most common and universal theme in music and in art. But with an inexplicable, ever-increasing amount of bands dedicating records to their own heartache, it's getting harder and harder for us, as listeners, to care about theirs specifically. We're not necessarily uncompassionate; we've just heard it all before. That's why if one record is to stand out, it can't be safe. It has to be extreme and irrational, and it should mercilessly delve into their misery until it brings up the most harrowing and painful truths with which we can relate.

"If You Leave", the much-hyped debut from London trio Daughter, is fundamentally and unashamedly a break-up album, and a frustrating one at that. Technically it does a lot right; it displays a dreamy indie-rock sound so impeccably clean and meticulously constructed that it's likely to attract fans of The XX, Bon Iver and The National. The guitars twinkle and swirl in a manner befitting any decent post-rock band, the bass is full-blooded yet atmospheric, and the drums gracefully roll - rarely crashing or making noise. Through this, pretty yet immaculate soundscapes are painted so proficiently that they can be genuinely immersive at their best. But they are centred around, and ultimately limited by, love-lorn vocalist Elana Tonra's melodramatic story-telling which, for a lot of this record's 46 minute run time, is too calculated, at times even contrived, to consistently arouse emotion from the listener.

That's the problem with "If You Leave": although Tonra can evoke flickers of feeling - as evidenced by the whimpers of "And you 'caused it!" from "Youth" and the fragility of closer "Shallows" - she too carefully toes the line bordering heart-broken madness without ever breaking into that territory. Simply put, she's too safe. She wants to appear as though she's in a dark place, and she wants to bring the listener into this apparent misery, but she's too deliberate in her approach to ever come across as somebody not in complete mental and emotional control. Her pain lacks the believability and sincerity required to connect with the listener on anything greater than a superficial level.

As she retreads the same themes throughout, the predictability of the music surrounding her solemn figure offers little reprieve. While the opening trio of songs, "Winter", "Smother" and "Youth", open the record promisingly, and closing duo "Amsterdam" and "Shallows" see the record out convincingly, the middle suffers from so little change of pace, colour and theme that it ends up nondescript and lacking in life, making it difficult to get through in one sitting. "Human", the most memorable song on the record, offers a sense of urgency through its acoustic-driven folk verses to balance with the typically soaring, atmospheric chorus, but its willingness to adopt different textures and dynamics are an exception rather than the rule.

The most frustrating thing about "If You Leave" is that it feels like Daughter are constantly on the cusp of something wonderful - the record flows well, it's undeniably pretty and the soundscapes are well-conceived - but they never take the risk to actually get there. Tonra is far too comfortable soaking in the shallow end of her heartache when the record would really benefit from the exploration of deeper, more extreme personal depths, especially as Daughter's sound is so reliant on her. At a certain point, you want Tonra to stop focusing on the same shade of heart-broken grey. Ultimately, while "If You Leave" is a passable debut, it's still only one that you can admire without it ever truly compelling as heartbreak should.

Download: Human, Smother, Youth
For The Fans of: The XX, Florence & The Machine, Bon Iver, The National, Laura Marling
Listen: Facebook

Release Date 18.03.2013

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