daughter – not to disappear

not to disappear
out january 15th via 4ad/glassnote

the framework of daughter has firmly been in place since its inception nearly five years ago: desolate soundscapes paired with lyrical turns that frequently transcend the confessional.  across a handful of early demos and a pair of eps in 2011 – his young heart and the wild youth – elena tonra crafted a persona as intimate as it is accessible, gradually absorbing the timbres and talents of igor haefeli and remi aguilella along the way.  after fully realizing the potential of that structure on 2013’s affecting full-length debut if you leave, daughter decamped to write not to disappear, a gorgeous follow-up that grapples with the ever-evolving turmoils of romance and isolation.

tonra has long been capable of penning devastating lyrics yet delivering them with such disarming consonance; this trait grows exponentially across not to disappear.  the clear frontrunner is “doing the right thing,” a character study of the gradual deterioration due to alzheimer’s – one that achieves peak poignancy through little more than shifting verb tenses – but residual effects are felt throughout the album.

“mothers,” a delicate slow-burning interlude, is a masterclass in conveying the physical pain that can result from unrequited love, and tonra notably channels that pain into vehemence on much of the album’s back half.  self-deprecation morphs into spite towards an absent and inattentive partner (“just a shadowy figure with a blank face / kicking me out of his place”) on “alone/with you,” a sentiment that tonra doubles down on just two songs later, stating “i don’t want to belong / to you, to anyone” with newfound conviction.

impeccable lyricism is arguably the most integral cog in daughter’s machine, but the trio makes strides in combatting the musical homogeneity that can accompany such a niche thematic area.  both haefeli and aguilella figure more prominently into each song’s direction; aguilella especially, as percussion propels tracks like “fossa” and “no care” into previously uncharted territories.  daughter also juxtaposes the convenient ambience that can quickly envelop sadness with tracks that flat-out groove (see: “how” and “to belong”) while “no care” is the closest analog to punk rock that this outfit has ever – and most likely will ever – pull off.

not to disappear reads as a composite sketch for an entire spectrum of daughter fans.  those seeking sparse moments of introspection will find solace in “made of stone” and “numbers,” while tracks like “how” and “fossa” will sate the appetites of others yearning to hear the band explore new sonic territories.  it’s a highly impressionable album at first glance, and the weight of its wintery despondency gradually seeps into your core with each subsequent listen.

the national – high violet

The National High Violet.jpg

i can count on one, maybe two, hands the number of records i listen to just as much now as i did five years ago.  many people undoubtedly find themselves in a similar situation for a variety of reasons, but i’m a highly impressionable person at an equally impressionable age, so it follows that a large portion of my musical diet would be substantially different at the age of twenty-three than at the age of eighteen.

for instance, i now see the incredible merit and social relevance of rap music and appreciate the muted refinement of ambient artists, while i tire quickly of acts like the black keys and muse that once structured such integral components of my musical identity.  although there are many albums i revisit frequently with general fondness, only a select few have consistently remained in heavy rotation for a half-decade.

the national released high violet on may 10th, 2010, just a few weeks before i graduated high school.  already industry veterans, the national had recently experienced two successive strokes of good fortune: the critical acclaim of 2007’s boxer and their label’s subsequent merger with 4ad.  a larger label means a bigger press cycle, which is inevitably how i was introduced to their fifth album.

i’m still not sure what initially drew me to the national, but i have a feeling it was largely due to familiarity and comfort.  familiarity in the sense that matt berninger’s voice was lower, more in line with my own, and comforting in the sense that he could be so emotive within the confines of a limited vocal range, a shared affliction that i had previously thought impossible to overcome.  then there was the fact that the national’s overarching demeanor was a little bit downcast and glum, which immediately reflected the lingering bits of sadness and self-doubt i was starting to feel over closing a huge chapter in my life and beginning a new one from scratch.

over the course of the ensuing summer, high violet took a backseat to more upbeat records conducive to late-night drives and sunny afternoon beach outings, but it held a special place for those slower moments, ones where i had extended time periods to myself and access to headphones.  the tremolo guitar chords that open “terrible love” were immediately soothing, a guiding force that eased me into a sense of melancholy and reflection.  throughout the following year i gradually absorbed the album and turned to its predecessors, boxer and alligator, for points of reference, but i always felt particularly drawn to high violet, to its effortless interchange of brass and strings as harmonic support, to berninger’s narratives and reflections, to the dessner brothers’ triumphantly symphonic compositions.

when played in full, high violet ebbs and flows with confidence. “bloodbuzz ohio” is the centerpiece of the album, both sequentially and structurally: the first five tracks build slowly towards it, each one offering a single trait that would eventually be absorbed into “bloodbuzz.”  specifically, the drumming in “anyone’s ghost,” the gradual wall of sound in “little faith,” and the orchestration in “afraid of everyone” all compound on one another to the point that the subsequent arrival of “bloodbuzz ohio” feels completely natural, as if nothing else could possibly follow.

the back half of high violet details the comedown from the exuberance of “bloodbuzz”; appropriately, it’s nearly a mirror image of the front, with elements being continuously subtracted until the arrival of “vanderlyle crybaby geeks,” a finale with similar gang vocals and string arrangements to that of the opener, “terrible love.”

symmetry aside, i constantly found other aspects of high violet to hold close.  the penultimate cut, “england,” was especially relevant in the first few months of 2012; berninger’s personification of an emotion throughout “sorrow” was a strong point of reference when i started to take poetry a bit more seriously; bryan devendorf’s blatant disregard for rock drumming conventions forced me to re-examine the rhythmic constructs and possibilities of every song that i wrote.  it seemed that every few months for the first three years that i owned this album, i would find something new to obsess about and pour over within high violet.

by the time i reached my senior year of college in the fall of 2013, the national had released their follow-up effort trouble will find me, and while i loved the album and cherished its place within the band’s chronology of development, a sliver of disappointment overcame me as i realized that they would never again offer up something that flowed as organically – and with such volatility – as high violet.

individual songs on the album had, by that time, largely ceased to function as emotional triggers for me, but it still remained on my iphone in its entirety and it frequently soundtracked my long walks to and from classes and around town.  particularly, high violet felt appropriate against the desolate backdrop of cripplingly cold and long wisconsin winters, reflecting the underlying misery while offering a degree of warmth akin to freshly-swallowed whiskey.

as i sat down to revisit high violet in depth for the umpteenth time in order to write this column, i’ll admit that i saw the telltale signs of an album that’s beginning to wear on me.  moments that once felt mesmerizing now had a slightly stale taste; some of the symphonic arrangements now feel derivative, unnecessarily grandiose.  still, i distinctly remembered my heart being beleaguered by the usual suspects, i still found something new to admire and dissect in bryan devendorf’s drumming, and i still laughed at the comically morose zombie references stashed in “conversation 16.”  high violet might not be an album that will hold a permanent slot on my portable media device five years from now, but its influence is paramount; i’ll always save a special place for those eleven tracks.

the national – trouble will find me

of all the bands that pride themselves in writing quality sad bastard music, the national have to be on the short list of bands that do so in a very convincing manner.  since 2005’s alligator, matt berninger’s suave baritone coupled with the music of the dessner and devendorf brothers have been dominating the indie rock scene, earning the national spots on presidential campaign tours and a slot on damn near every one of my applicable mixtapes.

high violet turned the heads of nearly anybody who’s anybody in the music industry back in 2010; the pounding post-punk tendencies of earlier albums had mostly been quelled, giving way to signature mid-tempo songs like “terrible love” while still churning out incredibly memorable offerings in “bloodbuzz ohio” and “conversation 16.”  this impressive feat was coupled with an additional handful of songs on a bonus disc that were recorded during the high violet sessions but didn’t quite fit thematically, rounding out the national’s best batch of songs to date.

to follow something so monumental with so much confidence would be a daunting task, so it’s understandable that the national took three years to do so.  songs on trouble will find me began cropping up in late 2011, and a year later, the band had premiered a quarter of the album’s content in live settings.  the release of lead single “demons” early this year cemented my anticipation of continuity from high violet; bryce devendorf’s signature drumming is plastered all over this track and from the moment berninger sings “i’m still in love with / everyone i grew up with,” it’s evident that his morose lyrical palate is here to stay.  what threw me were tracks like “don’t swallow the cap” and “graceless,” the former of which my dad immediately compared to the cure’s earlier catalogue.  this reappearance of the national’s post-punk roots was unexpected, but proves itself to be gloriously refined, courtesy of the band’s maturation.

“sea of love” seems to be the national’s follow-up attempt at recreating “bloodbuzz ohio,” a valiant effort that falls slightly short, simply due to the fact that a song of that caliber can’t be effectively replicated.  plenty of tear-jerkers still exist throughout trouble will find me; “heavenfaced” and “pink rabbits” are two of my early favorites from an album that should probably be saved for an incredibly dreary day, so i can adequately soak up its aesthetic.  in a world of sad, the national hold on to their crowns for another year.