Now far removed from their grindcore past, Daughters are all the better for it on their third album.
The musical evolution of Rhode Island band Daughters over the last nine years has been nothing short of impressive. 2003's Canada Songs was as exuberant, psychotic, and flat-out fun a grindcore album as you will ever hear. It held 11 minutes of insanity, dexterous riffs, maniacal blastbeats, and indecipherable screeches that, upon closer inspection, revealed some surprisingly clever lyrics. Three years later, the aptly titled Hell Songs took things in a decidedly different direction. Much darker in tone than the previous record, the band adopted more of a noise-rock style in the vein of Botch, the Jesus Lizard, and Melt Banana, exploring song dynamics, with vocalist Alexis Marshall eschewing the repetitive screaming in favor of a much cleaner vocal style, singing in an affected Southern drawl that, oddly enough, fitted with the music perfectly. It was a stylistic change so drastic that it blindsided everyone who had grown accustomed to Daughters' frantic, frenetic music in the past. Once the shock wore off, not only was it clear that Hell Songs was a terrific album, but in one fell swoop the band had opened themselves up to an entirely new realm of possibilities.
Although it's been a very long wait, Daughters' third full-length lives up to the promise they showed on the last album. In fact, they pull the rug out from under us again with what turns out to be far and away their best work yet. Like other ambitious recent albums like Melt-Banana's Bambi's Dilemma and Micachu's Jewellery, Daughters find a perfect, seemingly impossible middle ground between cacophony and accessibility. Waves of atonal, discordant chords and notes that at first seem flippantly and arbitrarily pieced together quickly meld together to create some improbable hooks. Coupled with Marshall's almost-spoken word rants, it all makes for an exciting listen.
The experimentation of Hell Songs is nonexistent on Daughters. Instead, the band is firmly nestled in a nice comfort zone, continuing right where the last record left off, only this time they're so much more confident. As a result, that ease the band exhibits results in some fabulous grooves. "The Virgin" is absolutely vicious, centering on a simple, swooping guitar sound that's made all the more contagious by the rhythm section of bassist Samual Walker and drummer Jon Syverson, whose mechanical yet swinging touch gives the track a strong post-punk feel. "The Hit" is easily the closest the band has ever come to sounding mainstream, kicking off into a series of riffs that wouldn't sound out of place on the Warped Tour, only instead of sounding lazily tossed off, the band tosses in plenty of idiosyncratic touches, such as a series of dissonant screeches courtesy Nick Sadler. "The Theatre Goer" is an inspired pastiche of aggressive, industrial-tinged passages and ambient touches, while "Our Queens (One is Many, Many are One)" erupts into a raucous second half full of tambourines and danceable backbeats.
Delving into Marshall's lyrics makes this album even more rewarding, as he serves up a series of character sketches that range from perceptive to disturbing ("Paul wears a hat of fire / he knows you won't be happy until he's lying dead in the street / now he is all but naked with a handgun on your front lawn."), often coming across as a psychobilly beat poet. His imagery is indelible, his wordplay several notches above your average metal and hardcore band. When you factor in the design and layout of this album (always a strength of Hydra Head), the usual booklet replaced by six different cover images, Daughters is definitely best experienced as a physical album rather than an iTunes download.
As great as this album is, though, there's a sense of finality that permeates the record. The band abruptly split up upon completion of the album, with Sadler moving on to indie darlings Fang Island. While Marshall and Syverson say they will carry on the band's name, losing such a crucial member in Sadler will be very difficult to get over. But then again, these guys have surprised us before.