Daughter Not To Disappear

[4AD; 2016]

Rating: 1.5/5

Styles: “indie pop,” Spotify Chill Out playlists, Trial Music at your favorite Bose kiosk
Others: The xx, Florence + the Machine, Adele

Daughter is the sort of band you sometimes forget about. Sprawling about the indie-adult-contemporary circuit, the group’s been around since 2010, with their self-released His Young Heart EP uploaded to Bandcamp in 2011 — hushed, folky melodies from Elena Tonra’s gorgeous voice, strung together through tender fingerpicking and soft, complacent reverbs. “Gorgeous” here in that Adele or Florence Welch kinda way. Talented and no doubt classically-trained, Tonra’s voice (among many others in the style) is a conduit — a sincere vessel lost in the stale lyrics, pressing on through long contest lines and willing to Risk It All for that Big, International Debut.

After another release, The Wild Youth EP in 2011, the London trio signed to 4AD, propping the band up next to similar folk troubadours like Bon Iver, Beirut, and Red House Painters. They released their debut full-length If You Leave with the label in early 2013, a massive success that charted at #16 in the UK as the band embarked on international tours, festival stages, and Spotify sessions. For awhile, it felt like you couldn’t get away from the band, who soundtracked episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, Teen Wolf, Skins, and Arrow, becoming an unconscious part of our global pop culture.

As I listen to their sophomore release, I’m struck. Gone is the folky nostalgia of former Daughter releases, here exchanged for something new. Not To Disappear places Tonra’s voice in a space uncannily similar to Romy Madley Croft’s haunting voice with The xx, built around clean guitars and rattling vocal cliches. The album finds Tonra again returning to themes of love and heartbreak, navigating the tracks with an undeniable vocal talent that swells up into the sorts of open-ended, vaguely teenage lyrics like “How long before the last dance?/ How come he’s the one to let me down?” (from the aptly-titled “How”). With a palette dominated by clean reverbs, stiff drum programming, and streamlined production, the album drifts through “gorgeous” “hi-fi” “beauty,” the sort of readymade sounds perfect for heavy rotation at your lonely artisan cafe. The clean delays and quantized hi-hats of “Numbers,” the swelling side-chain and lazy synths of “Alone/With You,” the sterile, programmed drums of “No Care” — every aspect of the album sounds like the full-length equivalent of a Spotify Chill Out playlist: flat, disposable, inoffensive (though “technically-sound”) 2010s muzak.

The fact that this is the work of the same Nicholas Vernhes who’s produced some of the most incredible releases from Dirty Projectors (Bitte Orca and Mount Wittenberg Orca) and Bradford Cox (Cryptograms, Parallax, and Monomania) really hits home with how flat this is intended to sound. Much like the Unifying White Liberalism of Adele’s “Hello,” Not To Disappear really bashes you over the head with a sonic professionalism that’s so overwhelmingly heavy that it alienates any potential search for influence, any sonic origin point from a time before Spotify algorithms. In the same way that The xx can dominate both Spotify’s Chill Out Experience and Songs to Have Sex To, Not To Disappear doesn’t mean anything — and that is its biggest charm. The spiritual vessel of “gorgeous” — akin to the astute “naturalness” of Adele’s virtuosity — is the new, inoffensive pop-rock du jour. It can be whatever you want it to be.

In many ways, this album will be a success regardless. The kind of people in search of “gorgeous, haunting melodies” will find them here — Vernhes’s skill as a producer assures that every hint of an idea lands with sharp and well-punctuated execution. But even more fundamentally, Daughter’s ability to cultivate something of a fan base with literally no expectations beyond a baseline vessel of vocal talent is certainly astonishing. Beyond melodic pleasantries, derivative production chiseled from the marble of bands that were mostly bland to begin with, and vapid lyrics, I’m not really sure what Daughter offers. As the hype cycles move on, pressing forward through pop acts that master this sonic complacency, Daughter will soon be relics of a lost time, one when the “false construct” of indie pop wasn’t an oxymoron.

If indie pop was only ever a vehicle to turn bedroom amateurs into careers, Daughter was a good last breath, a commercial horse trucking on against the changing times. As we beat on, boats against the currents of tides of “indie,” we’ll remember you. For how long though, it’s hard to say.

Links: Daughter - 4AD

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