London singer-guitarist Elena Tonra, or Daughter, likes her single word song titles. There are 10 of them on her debut album, If You Leave, and the economy she brings to labeling is a reflection of the concentrated themes that ripple through this record. Potent images of life and death entwine with the ever-present subject of lost love. The album is a catalogue of heartbreak; a song cycle of such damaged fallout that it begs the question of who these heartless bastards just might be.
She’s not exactly alone, though. Throughout the album, Tonra receives excellent support from her bandmates: guitar effects wizard Igor Haefeli and creative percussionist Remi Aguilella. If Haefeli supplies the blood coursing through the record, Aguilella offers the heartbeat, over which Tonra bares her unfeigned soul. Because of this sincerity, it’s both a difficult yet compelling debut. From stark opener “Winter”, which has Tonra and her love “drifting apart like two sheets of ice” to the stately closer “Shallows”, where the ghostly death wish of “drown with me” is enacted, If You Leave offers an emotional experience that’s as complete as a record might ever threaten to give you.
Each song exorcises Tonra’s personal demons and burns strong in its own right. “Youth” is a standout, with a cascading melody and rushes of sheer passion. The imagery of “corrupted lungs” and the reckless, wild youth “setting fire to our insides for fun” spells doom, only the song is uplifting and almost euphoric despite its lyricism. The hypnotic, choral vocals of “Smother” are another high point while, opening like a Ben Howard song, the faster paced “Human” breaks the musical mold somewhat with its drum roll-fired energy.
The production’s airy space allows Tonra’s brittle tone to be heard in soft echoes and die-away whispers. There’s an anger to her writing that acts as a counter to its more blatantly depressive tendencies. So what should be, and clearly is, a cathartic experience is also a pleasurable listen as you hear the ghosts of her past being banished. She’s locked in a dark room lyrically, but that claustrophobia’s eased through an experimental dimension that defies the usual labels instrumentally. These cavernous guitar effects, corrosive beats, and inspiring melodic twists magnify If You Leave, an album with true grandeur and occasion. Bastards be damned.
Essential Tracks: “Youth”, “Smother”, and “Human”