“Bruised but powerful”: Elena Tonra mulls this over. As the singing half of Daughter it is just one of a plethora of ways she’s been described in the past. I say plethora, but they all tend to focus on their perception of her as ‘damaged’ or ‘delicate’ or something else from the The Big Book of Female Archetypes. Superficially it might seem like a good first guess; she’s petite, pretty and self-effacing, but whenever you put a person on a stage a magical transformation occurs.
The girl who chats to me about letting others win, how to avoid conflict and being paired with the ‘weirdos’ on school exchange trips (“only to find out it might be you that is the odd one”) seems nice enough, but listen to her music and you’ll find bile, anger and vividly raw and visceral emotion. “’Bruised but powerfu’l is a good one,” she decides, “but I’d be happier with bloody busy.” 2011 is a year that has seen two praised EPs and tireless touring.
So, Elena is no wounded bird, but equally neither is Daughter only Elena. The other half of this partnership is Igor Hafaeli. An initial, one-off collaboration that was supposed to take some of the focus away from her on stage, this “happy accident” as Tonra puts it, has instead bloomed in to two EPs of potent bleakness, rich with texture rather than sparsely maudlin.
Turning what was once an acoustic act fronted by a girl who was admittedly ‘bored of her guitar’; Hafaeli adds otherworldly guitar licks and foggy shrouds of atmosphere, turning Daughter’s already forlorn music into a raging torrent of lovelorn madness. Reminding me of a less bawdy Wild Beasts or a less laconic Beach House, when it’s played in combination with Tonra it all adds up to a fluid melancholia.
“Musically, I’d hope we’re more interesting than deeply confessional guitar strumming,” Tonra explains, and I get the impression that this is another bonus to working with Igor: intentionally or otherwise, the focus has shifted from her as an identikit ‘woe is me’ female singer-songwriter to this fuller and more rounded artist.
In the same way that Daughter’s take on folk is one cloaked in ethereal electronic atmospherics, lyrically their music takes the prosaic subject matters of folk/pop and imbues them with a sense of the Grimm fantastical. Yes, she is young, and the catalyst for her songs might often be a “mean boy” (her words) but it’s from this personal core that the bigger picture is spun. Rather than ‘why don’t you love me’, it’s ‘throw me in the landfill,’ replacing poisonous medicines, bitter love and heartbreak with the sound of breaking ribs.
If this sounds bleak, then it has everything to do with Tonra’s voice and delivery rather the heavyweight subject matter. More diverse than her peers, to my ear she covers ground that includes Karin Dreijer Anderson (brooding and mysterious) Regina Spektor (high and forceful) as well as Cat Power’s thick skinned, learnt the hard way-style music.
To avoid further lumping her into the ‘Girls Club,’ when I suggest there are hints of Jose Gonzales and James Vincent McMorrow in there too, she just beams; “as a rule, I prefer male singers as inspiration.” Garnering praise for a sound that is more ‘authentic’ than a lot of their peers, and managing to maintain that necessary sense of drama and theatre whilst steering clear of downright, overblown melodrama, the quality of the songs here speaks more loudly than the visual aesthetic, and rightly so.
So is 2012 going to be the year that lauds artistry over artifice? Hopefully with Daughter in the mix, it will be. After all, by her own admission the next twelve months look set to be another “bloody busy year” with festival dates, a trip to SXSW and “hopefully an album”. I ask if Daughter are up to the task of vindicating me: “well normally, if things get competitive I usually just hope not to get hit”, Tonra smiles, “but who knows? Maybe we’ll hit the zeitgeist head on…”