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Daughter and the Decline of Selfhood


Billboard’s Paley Martin claims that Daughter’s latest album, Not To Disappear, enables “each lyric [to morph] the melancholic into an expansive and visceral soundscape” and the album as a whole “contemplates fate & presence.” This fate & presence is something I see as an extension of the mission of BACKWORDS Press’ Blog – exploring the intersection between history & presence – and I would have to agree with Paley’s review.

Collaborating “with the BAFTA-nominated Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, and writer Stuart Evers, the band released three respective short films for the tracks. Though all are linked by one motif, the films can be enjoyed on their own or sequentially.” Stuart Evers wrote three short stories inspired by three songs off Not To Disappear which you can read on their website and in conjunction with the videos produced by Forsyth and Pollard (Doing the Right Thing deals with a husband taking care of his ailing wife with dementia, How focuses on a young woman agoraphobic, and Numbers is a neon-tinged and dangerous sultry mystery affair). This crisscrossing of art mediums brings new depth and life to their work as a band and as artists. Beyond simple music videos, these pieces offer up a new and fully realized story, bringing a cinematic scope and quality to their music. Stand-alone stories all tied together by the words and thoughts of Elena Tonra (and bandmates).

Still from the music video 'Numbers'

The lyrics of Daughter’s latest work have unsettled something inside me, just under the surface. A fear of growing older and forgetting. A fear of disappearing. I have a family history of Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and normally I’m quite good at leaving these fears undisturbed – careful to leave the ripples they cause to a minimum. Kitty Empire of The Guardian, says that “One of the standout tracks on this London post-indie rock trio’s second album deals unflinchingly with that tragic decline of selfhood” The song in question, and one of the short story and film hybrids, Doing the Right Thing, is the culprit of this murky feeling. As Tonra sings “I'm just fearing one day soon / I'll lose my mind / Then I'll lose my children / Then I'll lose my love / Then I'll sit in silence,” I can’t help but feel the splash that fear creates.

Photo by Phillip Trey (May 2013)

I saw them in concert in Portland, OR at the Doug Fir Lounge two years ago – a basement venue at a hipster hotel with a petite stage, low lighting, and wood covered walls – precious as you first enter, but too intimate as the room fills with other bodies. Listening to them live was a unique experience in that the lead singer, Elena Tonra, was the meekest and mildest personality I’ve ever come across on a stage. As a fan in the crowd yelled out “we love you” she giggled lightly and whispered thank you into the microphone, appearing uncomfortable with the praise. I’m so used to a performer not just performing their songs, but their personas as well. Tonra was not having any of that. She was simply there for the music. The concert as a whole felt like listening to them with headphones on, like a copy of the album, or listening to them record the originals. It was not a disappointing experience, just unexpected to feel so contained. I’ve come to realize through her lyrics that beneath the calm of her surface, is a whole world just below full of under currents and disparate lives.

At times, working to be a writer can feel a bit like rifling through memory and swirling them about, poking and prodding to see what sticks or slips through – either presenting them as the facts or injecting them with fiction. Yet there’s still a choice there. Of how much to share and how much to exaggerate. Of where and how a story shapes or where the inspiration comes from. Of what to make of it. The thought of losing that ability to discern between memory and reality, to lose that choice, is terrifying. Like having your body submerged in icy water with no hope of warming at the surface. I don’t have an easy resolution for that feeling. Just that it’s important to find words and music that name these fears, if nothing else than to commiserate. Daughter helps with that.

Stay Backwords,

Phillip Trey

Following is the music video and the full lyrics to Daughter’s song Doing the Right Thing.

And they're making children

And they're making love

With their old excuses

We are built for reproduction

But I find it soothing

When I am confined

I'm just fearing one day soon

I'll lose my mind

Then I'll lose my children

Then I'll lose my love

Then I'll sit in silence

Let the pictures soak

Out of televisions

Float across the room

Whisper into one ear

And out the other one

Then I'll take my clothes off

And I'll walk around

Because it's so nice outside

And I like the way the sun feels

And when it's dark

I'll call out in the night for my mother

But she isn't coming back for me

Cause she's already gone

But you will not tell me that

Cause you know it hurts me everytime you say it

And you know you're doing the right thing

You must know you're doing the right thing

I have lost my children

I have lost my love

I just sit in silence

Let the pictures soak

Out of televisions

Out of televisions

Out of televisions

Out of televisions

Out of televisions

And they're making children

Everyone's in love

I just sit in silence

Let the pictures soak

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