Monday, November 5, 2018

album review: 'you won't get what you want' by daughters

Not going to mince words: these are the reviews that always give me pause when I put them together. Not that I didn't know what I was getting into - I've gone through Daughters' entire back catalog, it did not take long - but it's always a little daunting when you see so many critics praise an act so highly, especially based on qualifiers that can be very subjective to say the least.

Granted, since we're talking about Daughters we might as well open with the conversation that'll inevitably happen whenever somebody talks about this group, namely what in the Nine Hells they even are. Going into their first album you could conceivably call them grindcore with the extremely short songs, screamed vocals, and guitars that sounded like buzzsaws going through your skull, but their next two releases didn't stick in that lane, venturing into noise rock and industrial music with the sort of intentionally grotesque wildness that if you were familiar with their genre could seem a bit more accessible and experimental, showing the band diversify and expand their sound - and if you weren't familiar you were in the corner in the fetal position. This is a band that operates on violent noise and alienation and you need to be the right mindset for it - but if you can clue into that mindset, I would never call myself a huge fan but I thought their artistic direction had potential and I would have been curious for a reunion before now, eight years after they broke up after their self-titled album that many considered their final record. But they're back, and the critics who love this style of abrasion really love this album, so I was gearing up for one hell of a listen, even if the album's title seemed to promise otherwise. But fuck it, what did we get from You Won't Get What You Want?

So here's the thing: I haven't talked about a project like You Won't Get What You Want in some time, an album that isn't specifically to entertain you or be all that fun, at least not in a conventional sense and especially when you get into the lyrics. The most immediate and striking comparison point that I came to, especially on a thematic level, is The Flaming Lips' excellent - and absolutely terrifying - 2013 album The Terror, an album that was designed to put forward an unsettling existential truth and push the audience to the limits in alien territory. Daughters take a similar route with this project, except they hit a variety of disconcerting ideas all centered around a brand of desperate nihilism that absolutely embodies the album's title. And if that sort of thing is your speed - and spoilers, for me it definitely can be - this is a tense, genuinely unnerving listen that might be Daughters' most accessible album, but is using that accessibility to really get under your skin and leave you a trembling, exhausted wreck.

Now some of this might mean evaluating the appeal of this album is different than most - to put it bluntly, it's not exactly fun, nor is it really designed to be - but the devious trick of Daughters is that for as bleak as this album is, it's not using the same trick as The Flaming Lips did with The Terror in using warped song structures to make the listener uneven; it's actually trying to be catchy, and some of its perverse genius is how for as discordant as the jangling, roiling swells can be, there's still a melodic core to these progressions designed to get into your head, with real hooks and some veneer of accessibility, providing you can tolerate the blaring industrial howl of it all. Yeah, the guitars might keen and wail across twisted chords and the bass might build some roiling crunch, but when it's not falling apart in agonized, stuttering breakdowns the percussion keeps a steady rhythm and frontman Alexis Marshall isn't screaming or engaging in the Nick-Cave-circa-Birthday-Party impression he had been working years ago... and in a sense, that might be an inspired choice, not playing someone who can command or ride the dark tides like Nick Cave or Michael Gira but the man just as caught within the brutal rhythms, which is that much more relatable. And in a sense that lack of a central commanding anchor point amidst the noise makes it feel that much more imposing, from moments of slow-building menace like 'City Song' doubling down on loneliness and whispered fear and 'Daughter' tipping off the deeper melody and consistent rhythm into unstable horror, to the return of the manic power-drill guitar tone on 'The Lord's Song' where the desperate vocals are audible but on the cusp of getting subsumed completely. And in one of my few nitpicks, that tone is one of the few elements carried over from their earlier years that I've never quite gotten into, like on a cut like 'Flammable Man' and 'Guest House' or how it slips into 'Daughter' and 'The Reason They Hate Me', especially when I think Daughters gets so much more menace and power out of the use of melody, from the hollow, jingling blues of 'Less Sex' to the hammering industrial grind of 'Long Road, No Turns' that is confident enough to hit breathing moments where the guitar peals across the mix like an organ, to the hammered two note oscillations that creep with gothic majesty over 'Satan In The Wait'. Or hell, when Daughters knocks into a killer groove like on the gallop of 'The Reason They Hate Me', 'Ocean Song' and 'Guest House', the power-drill guitar tone almost doesn't matter as the primal fear crashes in and the melody is allowed to cascade into fouler territory over longer runtimes, or in the case of 'Guest House' use the much heavier pounding groove and primal bombast to break into an ambiguous, remarkably elegant outro where nothing is left completely certain... but it's no soothing moment either.

And this is where content comes into the picture - and you know, I have to give Daughters a lot of credit for the sheer breadth of unsettling ways to instill panic and fear that don't default to sheer shock tactics. This is an album that wants to prey on subtle anxieties and creeping dread, less the monster you know is there and more perpetuating the feeling that there's one around every corner and you can't quite trust your own perception that it's not there. 'City Song' is the most obvious example to set the scene, but that open attack on expectations continues from there: 'Long Road, No Turns' goes straight into the loaded implications that everyone falls apart, we all might take a little pleasure in someone else's pain as they seem like they're hitting the ground harder... but that's not filling the void, and the words behind this song aren't even yours. It makes the seduction of demonic forces on 'Satan In The Wait' kind of ingenious, as the creature's ugliness show how it's snubbed and ignored and pitiful... but when someone wants something or leaves themselves just open enough, the option creeps in before you even realize it - but even then, on a narrative level this isn't a grand tragedy of errors, this is the pitiful subversion of people too blind or stupid to recognize something they could have easily cast aside! It's more obvious on 'The Lords Song' but it's just as pointed: this is someone who has every comfort but still cries and remains unsatisfied, analogous to the mantra of 'Less Sex' and the paranoia of 'The Flammable Man'. Hell, if there's a cogent theme through this, it's how when isolated and left to themselves, humanity's irrationality curdles inwards into breakdowns that don't make dramatic sense, but are all the more terrifying for their reality - it's the embrace of the pointless, the toxic, the self-destructive, the little moments of catharsis that open up to disaster or at the very least expectations that are never met. That's one reason there's some real sting to 'Daughter', which takes a metaphorical build around an artist's creative process to venture back on the road to reclaim missed opportunities... a trudge that'll never truly satisfy in the end. It's why there's a song where they lash at those who criticize on 'The Reason They Hate Me' as those who have never lived and think they know better - which becomes a baring of their own insecurities along the way, and kind of ironic given how much critics have embraced this project - but it certainly is fitting with the final two songs showing our protagonist losing all control and charging into the ocean of naked possibilities or fighting for a way into a house that is not their own - enraged, maddened but craven and desperately seeking a satisfaction that'll never come - which is one reason why the album has to end ambiguously, thus giving those at the end none of that satisfaction of ever knowing what really was found at the end, if the door ever truly opened.

So yeah, I'm sure the band can appreciate the irony that despite Daughters titling the album You Won't Get What You Want, across the board it delivers the sort of consistency, thematic nuance, and powerfully unsettling core that was exactly what I wanted and appreciated. Dense and dissonant but melodic and hook-driven, crushing and implacable but altogether human and desperate, this is the sort of album so well-designed to never deliver a greater catharsis that it winds up paradoxically finding that power in its execution all the same - an irony I'm sure the band appreciates on some level. And while I think a project like this with these tones and themes normally becomes a niche listen for me... it's catchy enough that I can easily go back to it all the same! So yeah, 9/10, incredible listen, absolutely worth all the praise it's receiving. Again, like the last album I gave a 9/10 it is not for everyone, even those who like industrial music and noise rock... but yeah, it's worth it - definitely check it out!

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