Today’s Song: Daughter Lament Life and Loss On “Doing The Right Thing”

London trio Daughter have a special talent for crafting powerfully evocative music that subjects listeners to our individual emotional cores, leaving us vulnerable and overtly aware of our humanity. Elena Tonra’s haunting, bare vocals blend perfectly with her honest and poetic lyrics, creating a tragically magnetic harmony that makes every word she sings feel like another icy, exposed dagger from her soul.

Not To Disappear - Daughter

Not To Disappear – Daughter

This has never been truer of Daughter’s music than on “Doing The Right Thing,” the band’s latest offering and their first new music since 2013’s debut album If You Leave brought Tonra, guitarist Igor Haefeli and drummer Remi Aguilella international acclaim and recognition. “Doing The Right Thing,” released yesterday with a music video, is the lead single off Daughter’s forthcoming sophomore record, Not To Disappear, set for a strategic mid-January 2016 release via 4AD/Glassnote Records.

Layered with subtleties and overflowing with emotion, “Doing The Right Thing” is a raw testament to our human mortality, offering something of a bleak commentary on the nightmares of old age, specifically neurodegeneration. The circle of life is such that every beginning has an end, but we often forget that deterioration affects the mind as well as the body. Tonra notes this simple fact in the song’s chilling opening verse:

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

Humanity is; humans are not. We exist, in theory, for the purpose of perpetuation. Using the pronoun “they” rather than “we,” Tonra’s initial observation of this cyclical process comes from an outsider’s standpoint. However, her disconnect to this seeming meaninglessness quickly succumbs to the far greater fear of self-loss. Those with relatives suffering from dementia understand the fragility of the mental state, yet understanding is not synonymous with comprehension in this case: Humanity dreads most that which it does not know, and neurodegenerative disease is as much a mystery to those experiencing it, as it is to their loved ones.

Daughter

Tonra’s voice is supported by an ambient combination of percussion and electric guitar that grows from light to heavy as the song progresses. The music consciously follows in step with Tonra’s vocals, drawing attention toward the lyrics. After a measured build during the first verse, the ambience fades and a lone guitar walks nakedly in time with Sonra’s voice. Daughter resemble The xx with their minimalist, dark approach.

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

Out the other one

Tonra’s approach toward the inevitability of her own ‘self-loss’ is not a struggle, nor does it come across as an acceptance; instead, Tonra seems to be trying to maneuver her way into the mind of the diseased, and out through those faraway eyes. Her descriptions of feeling in the song are overwhelmed by statements of observational fact, e.g. I’ll lose my childrenI’ll sit in silence. Out of humility, or perhaps an unwillingness to venture so far down the rabbit hole, Tonra keeps her lyrical imagery to the surface level. Owing to the nature of the subject matter, this writing style is all the more stirring.

The song gets its title from the next verse, as Tonra continues to muse about her future:

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 every time you say it

And you know you’re doing the right thing
You must know you’re doing the right thing

How do we deal with our disease-stricken loved ones? Do we approach them as reasonable, logical beings? Their reality is no longer ours; they share the same air we do, but they do not share the same state of mind. As Daughter’s new single nears a lyrically, emotionally and musically violent phase, the imagery is stark, devoid of flowery metaphors or illustrative descriptions. It is realistic; it is lifelike.

Daughter are Elena Tonra, Igor Haefeli, and Remi Aguilella

Daughter are Elena Tonra, Igor Haefeli, and Remi Aguilella

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…

Daughter’s music is proof that you don’t need to be loud to resonate: You can have an equally, if not more profound impact on listeners through ambiance and musical/lyrical congruence. Elena Torna sings from her innermost core as she assumes the identity of the mentally ill; vulnerable and raw, Torna exposes herself to the idea of not being. That kind of lyrical risk is praiseworthy in itself, but Daughter’s exploration of the void goes one step further in the “Doing The Right Thing” music video, directed by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard, and based off a short story written by author Stuart Evers, who was commissioned to write three short stories – ‘Dress’, ‘Window’ and ‘5,040’ – based on select Not To Disappear tracks.

Screenshot from "Doing The Right Thing" by Daughter

Screenshot from “Doing The Right Thing” by Daughter

The music video personifies the situation depicted in Daughter’s song: An elderly man leaves his house, suitcase in hand, and ventures out to run some errands. He donates the suitcase and its contents to a shelter, and then picks his wife’s dry cleaning. What we cannot see is his inner turmoil, but through music, Daughter contextualize the scene: The man is alone, walking the streets of his town while his wife sits at home, staring resolutely, but blankly at the television screen. Their son is at home with her, caring for her in his short absence. After picking up the dry cleaning, our main character cannot bear to go straight home, so he stops on a bench for a minute.

He breaks down into tears on the bench, overcome by his situation while still processing all that has transpired.

As the main character (Harry, portrayed by actor Richard Syms) returns home to his wife and son, it soon becomes apparent that this was no regular outing. A full shot of the room reveals  the majority of its contents to be boxed up, save the television and an old, framed wedding photograph. The couple’s time in the home they filled with memories has come to a close: Whether they are moving into a nursing home or their son’s house, the finality of the moment bears down heavily upon them.

Screenshot from "Doing The Right Thing" by Daughter

Screenshot from "Doing The Right Thing" by Daughter

And she continues to stare at the television. Her glance does not break when her husband kneels beside her, caresses her face, and places her beautiful red dress in her lap. Bittersweet romance is belied by the sheer humanity of the scene. This is real life: This is an end.

Death is intrinsic to life,  but “Doing The Right Thing” is not a commentary on mortality; rather, this song is Daughter’s lamentation of loss during life, which might very well be scarier than death itself.

Listen: “Doing The Right Thing” – Daughter

Not To Disappear – Daughter

set to release 1/15/2016 via 4AD/Glassnote

Not To Disappear - Daughter

Not To Disappear – Daughter (album cover painting – ‘The world is spinning around’ by Sarah Shaw)

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“Doing The Right Thing” – Daughter

lyrics

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

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 every time 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

And they’re making children
Everyone’s in love
I just sit in silence
Let the pictures soak

Mitch Mosk

Mitch is the Editor-in-Chief of Atwood Magazine and a 2014 graduate from Tufts University, where he pursued his passions of music and psychology. He currently works at Universal Music Group in New York City. In his off hours, Mitch may be found songwriting, wandering about one of New York's many neighborhoods, or writing an article on your next favorite artist for Atwood. Mitch's words of wisdom to fellow musicians and music lovers are thus: Keep your eyes open and never stop exploring. No matter where you go, what you do or who you are with, you can always learn something new and inspire something amazing. Say hi here: mitch[at]atwoodmagazine[dot]com