Daughters' Evocative Terror: "You Won’t Get What You Want"
by James Ammirato
There is a reason that the gatefold of the You Won’t Get What You Want vinyl is pure black. That reason is that it had to be. Providence noise rock group Daughters have finally released their new album, after only eight years of waiting, but no one could have expected what was to come on this new release. It’s always nice to see a band that’s been around for 10+ years still evolving, and even better when that evolution works in their favor. But Daughters is a band of evolution. Their first two LP’s, 2002’s Canada Songs and 2006’s Hell Songs saw the band making abrasive noisegrind with not much going for it in the realm of production or composition. Their first LP is particularly bare, not to mention extremely short at only 11 minutes. Their last project, 2010’s Daughters saw the band embracing a bit more of the noise rock and industrial genres, yet still not at a stage of full realization. However, this new album is their most fully formed and well thought out project to date, their sound completely fresh and unexplored.
The album starts off with “City Song,” beginning with a thrum that is easily the least abrasive aspect of the entire album. Around the 30-second mark, we begin to hear clipped snare hits every four measures, and instantly we feel as though we are being sucked into something, something ritual is happening, something dangerous is happening. The song cuts out, and then-- with one hit, the song really begins. “This city is an empty glass,” frontman Alexis Marshall drones, honestly sounding as though he is already broken, as though there isn’t an entire harrowing journey to go through on the rest of the record. Our ears are left at the mercy of a siren that hits us powerfully, even though it’s back in the mix. The beat clearly takes influence from the no wave genre, I am instantly reminded of Swans’ debut Filth, as well as Nick Cave regarding vocal delivery. We rest for the last 30 seconds of the track, the only component left being Marshall’s solitary moan.
We are instantly hurdled back into the record with “Long Road, No Turns,” a terrifying cut that leaves the listener feeling utterly chased, as though we are on the aforementioned road, pursued by nothing more than Alexis Marshall’s shattered psyche. Composed of an unrelenting beat and some of the most dissonant and grating guitar sounds I’ve ever heard, the track forces the listener into the mindset of despair, one that is practically inescapable. The cut is interspersed with lyrics like “I don’t know what to say when people come apart,” and “Well ain’t it funny how it works / Someone’s always got it worse.” These kinds of lines found not just in this track, convey to me a sense of harsh cynicism, something close to misanthropy even, further adding to the element of darkness on the record. Even in the first two songs, we know that what we are hearing is sinister, it is not meant to be an easy listen.
On “Satan In The Wait,” the track begins with some of my favorite lyrics on the album; “That bastard had a head like a matchstick / Face like he was sucking concrete through a straw.” This vivid imagery is not only perfect when cast against the whine of the warped guitars and the ritualistic sounding drums, but it also paints us a malevolent picture of a figure assumed to be from Hell itself. At just over seven minutes in length, the song transforms into a longing ballad, featuring the repeated mantra, “This world is opening up.” With an extremely eerie organ part reminiscent of a dramatic horror movie, the track sounds practically like something out of Psycho. The first time I attempted to listen to this album, I had to stop after the end of this song, as I was alone at night walking around the Boston Common, flinching at every movement within my field of vision due to the terrifying sounds to be heard on this album. For those who haven’t heard the project, if you do choose to listen, I encourage at least the first listen to be somewhere you consider safe, perhaps with the lights on. It might make it easier.
The two shortest songs on the record, “The Flammable Man” and “The Lord’s Song” are something like companion tracks, each flying past at a breakneck pace that leaves the ears unable to rest. Typically, I would be averse to such a choice, but on this album, it’s an impeccable decision. “Is something burning in here or is it me?” Marshall cries, followed by something that could be a carnival of terror, nothing but dissonance for the ears to experience. Daughters’ goal for this release was clearly to put the listener through an emotional ordeal, to feel what the narrator is feeling, and they accomplish it without fail, due to the cohesiveness of the band and the instrumentation, coupled with Alexis Marshall’s wails of anguish. “I cry about it because I want to,” we hear over a wall of sound, and cannot help but agree.
“Less Sex” begins the second side with a spot of harsh noise, then dissolves into the most tranquil (in comparison) section the album has to offer. “I let it into my home,” Marshall tells us, “Led a long way down.” I am called back to “City Song” in that the two cuts have similar beat patterns and deep droning bass to fill out the low-end. However, instead of a clipped snare hit, “Less Sex” includes something of an afterthought of a guitar line, snuck into the mix at just the volume it needs, not distracting, but not unheard. The song matures into a more abrasive bridge, but somehow remains calm, with a bright synth soaring over the vocal mix. The narrator’s voice is literally swallowed by the void.
One of my favorite aspects of this album is how everything seems so perfectly in place, yet all I can envision is every instrument being beaten by the people playing them. This thought applies especially to the opening guitar in “Daughter,” where dissonance reigns. Clanging strings ring out over a beat that sounds like haunted Bossanova, while lines like “We’re open-mouthed in the deepest shit of all” and “The same dead hand knocking at the door” assault our (at this point) suspecting eardrums.
“The Reason They Hate Me” serves as the most straightforward industrial track on the LP, sounding like it could be off Nine Inch Nails’ The Downward Spiral. At one point in the song, we even hear what literally sounds like a fire alarm, pulsating over the undying drums and massive synths, as Marshall comes back in with the hook, “Don’t tell me how to do my job.” The track fades, then we are greeted with the opening chord to “Ocean Song,” the longest track on the album at seven and a half minutes. The intro is accompanied by a hollow drum beat and sparse staccato bass notes, as the narrator begins the story of a man named Paul. Told over the course of the song, the story in itself feels like a gritty graphic novel or a pulp magazine. Torturous, murky, and rough, Paul gets home one day and decides he needs to run, as “A voice more primal, is urging him.” The song to me encompasses the whole record, since it is a story about a man in a downward spiral, truly feeling as if there is nothing left in the world for him. I believe the album as a whole is about the same thing, fictional or otherwise. Towards the end, we are pummeled by the lines “To know, to see for himself / If there is an ocean beyond the waves,” while the instrumentals come together to create this absolute sense of urgency and panic in the listener, as the guitars slide up and down, a perfect representation of madness.
Eventually, the instrumentals break down into a fuzzy section of noise, and the final track “Guest House” comes in harder than any prior track. It is here that the album is fully cemented as a masterpiece, as every aspect of the project is amalgamated into this final piece that is hammered into the listener’s head. With a guitar part that would satisfy even the likes of Steve Albini, we are attacked by a drum beat that sounds like it’s played on a kit made of sheet metal and the repeated chant “I’ve been knocking and knocking and knocking and knocking… LET ME IN.” Now, if you somehow haven’t been frightened by the entire album thus far, this song will most likely leave you rocking back and forth in your seat. Even when we get a break from the siren-like guitars, we are subjected to Alexis Marshall’s repeated cries of “LET ME IN.” Finally, after three and a half disturbing minutes, we are led out of the album by an ominous string and horn section that feels like the end of something horrible that has just happened.
Overall, You Won’t Get What You Want is nothing short of brilliant. Over the course of 50 minutes, we are dragged through the muck with a narrator who appears to be falling apart at the seams. A fantastic look at a haunted psyche, Daughters effectively convey true terror, and contrary to the album’s name, give me exactly what I want.