Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want: Music’s Answer to the Elephant’s Foot

2018 was one of the past decades’ greatest years for music; it had everything I wanted from a year musically. As a rap fan, G.O.O.D. Music dropped five albums in five weeks, including Pusha T’s Daytona and KIDS SEE GHOSTS. Artists like JPEGMAFIA and SOPHIE released breakthrough, genre-pushing experimental albums. Drake even got posterized by the Story of Adidon in one of the better modern rap beefs.

Above all else however, my 2018 was highlighted by two incredible rock albums. Two albums that couldn’t be more sonically different from one another.

Album Cover for Car Seat Headrest – Twin Fantasy

On February 16, 2018, Car Seat Headrest released the re-recorded, remastered version of his 2011 album Twin Fantasy. Originally recorded in an extremely lo-fi manner in the backseat of his car (hence the band name), Will Toledo used his deal with Matador Records to recreate his Bandcamp classic with a professional budget. The difference is astounding…

…and the result is a tender and sentimental love album that oozes with character. Most of the songs are very dynamic and progressive in structure, and touch on topics from being LGBT to social awkwardness. Its a deeply and profoundly human album.

The second rock album couldn’t be any further from human.

An old gymnasium in Pripyat, Ukraine left desolate from the Chernobyl reactor explosion. (Wikimedia Commons)

Lets go back to April 26, 1986: the date of the Chernobyl disaster. During a routine reactor test, the infamous reactor 4 experienced a power surge that ultimately led to the reactor exploding, contaminating the surrounding area with large amounts of radiation.

Because of the unfathomable heat produced in the explosion, the reactor core melted into a toxic lava that sunk through the reactor, through the concrete floor, and allowing the horrifying byproduct to begin to solidify in the basement.

One of few recorded photos of the Elephant’s Foot. The intense radiation from the mass is causing the bizarre camera effects. (US Department of Energy)

Upon its discovery that same December, it emitted 10 times the lethal dose of radiation. It would only take 300 seconds of direct exposure to the mass to result in death within 2 days. As a result, some have cited Chernobyl’s basement as the most dangerous room in the world.

Today it sits inside a sarcophagus built to lock the radiation off from the rest of the world, leaving the Elephant’s Foot to sit there, slowly sinking through the floor, left to decay out of sight from the public. It also is the only way I can effectively describe the listening experience for the second album.

Album Cover for Daughters – You Won’t Get What You Want (Bandcamp)

Trying to explain the sound of You Won’t Get What You Want is like trying to explain having your eyes gauged out. Few words can properly do justice to the manic, demented sonic landscape this album presents. Across 10 tracks, this album batters and bruises you, forcing you to stare its radioactive terror in the eye. It is music’s answer to The Elephant Foot (roll credits). How did this happen? What allowed this mass to form in the basement?

A routine reactor test

If you knew Daughters before YWGWYW, it would be hard to imagine them releasing an album of this magnitude. Formed in Providence, Rhode Island in 2002, they started out as a pretty generic mathcore group, a niche sub-genre of hardcore punk classified by rhythmically complex time signatures and the use of dissonant and jarring sounds.

The most notable thing about Daughters in their mathcore phase, in my opinion, is the names of their tracks, which on their debut album Canada Songs I find to be downright hilarious.

(Spotify)

That being said not much about the music on their first 2 albums stands out, especially compared to the top mathcore releases of the time. In part, this may be due to their miniscule album lengths, with Canada Songs and Hell Songs clocking in at 11 minutes (with 10 songs!) and 23 minutes, respectively.

Our old songwriting was definitely more like “how many parts can we cram into this one song and each of them only happens once”

Samuel Walker (bassist) on Daughters old sound

The new decade gave us a new sound from Daughters, and in 2010 they dropped their self-titled album which sees them transition from mathcore to noise rock. The band keeps the distinct and tortured sound from their mathcore work but replaces the technical and rhythmic melodies with more traditional rock progression. Since it is a Daughters album it doesn’t pass the 30 minute mark, but the album shows potential for all future Daughters releases.

“I don’t think I’ll ever play with Daughters again – I’ve been through way too much stress and I’m in a way better place with writing and being in a band Fang Island. With the new album, I think we ended on a really good note”

Nick Sadler (guitar) on the future of Daughters (Punk News 2010)

The band started to fall apart. Lead singer Alexis Marshall and guitarist Nick Sadler got into an argument during the production of self-titled, causing Marshall to leave the band. The remaining three members mixed and finished the rest of the record in hopes that Marshall would return to the band, which he agreed to do as long as Sadler left the band. Bassist Samuel Walker and Sadler both walked away as a result, the latter joining the acclaimed indie rock group Fang Island.

All that was left was a drummer (Jon Syverson) and a vocalist. The reactor had officially blown up, and it seemed like Daughters was next in the long line of bands that just couldn’t stay together.

Album Cover for Daughters – Self Titled (Wikipedia)

Left to decay out of sight from the public

Its 2013 and we’re 5 years out from YWGWYW’s release, but Daughters is no closer to reforming. By now, all the members were living in different states, and half of them were in new bands altogether (Marshall would front the Punk band Fucking Invincible during this time). They all had moved on to new projects, and Daughters was left to decay and deform out of sight from the public.

And then they got lunch.

Marshall and Sadler still aren’t on speaking terms, but they agreed to meet for lunch through a mutual friend, who told each of the musicians that the other wanted to see them. In actuality, neither of them wanted to see eachother, but at lunch they hit it off like nothing even happened.

“We sat down and had dinner and within 15 minutes we started talking about plans. We just needed to be in the same room I guess… it felt that enough time had gone by that any issues that Nick [Sadler] and I had had been not necessarily forgotten but they didn’t seem that important anymore.”

Alexis Marshall (vocalist) on lunch with Sadler.

They started talking about the possibility of making another Daughters album, and even did a couple of New England shows. However, they were still confined by their separate lives, and often would have to go months in between writing and recording sessions.

“Any time off we had from our schedule, I’d get a plane ticket up here [to Pawtucket], figure out where to sleep, and we’d try to write”

Jon Syverson (drums) on the making of YWGWYW

This was a pretty obvious roadblock for the band, and it often left them wondering if they would even be able to put the record out. As tough as it may have been, it gave them all the time in the world to think. They had to assemble this album inch by inch, terror by terror. Slowly but surely, they were sinking through the concrete floor, hardening in the basement.

The horrifying byproduct

You Wont Get What You Want was released October 26, 2018 at 50 minutes long, almost twice as long as any other Daughters album (almost five times longer than their debut!). Instead of trying to cram as many sounds and riffs into a song once, they began to flesh out their sounds and assemble longer, more atmospherically chilling musical passages, building on the sound they started to create on their self-titled album.

Sadler is the band member credited with leading production on this album, and creates a despondent, rotting instrumental palette on YWGWYW. The guitars on songs like Long Road, No Turns sound rickety and soulless, as if they could crumble into dust if they are played too hard. On faster tracks, they pierce your ears with a very Psycho violin-esque sound that is the textbook definition of musical anxiety such as on The Reason They Hate Me. Syverson’s drums are equally demented, and are often distorted to sound hollow and lifeless, most notably on the opening track City Song.

Fantastic production aside, its Alexis Marshall’s lyrics and vocals that set this album apart.

(Discogs)

That bastard had a head like a matchstick, face like he was sucking concrete through a straw. “Some faces not even a mother can love”, says the spit and spatter of broken glass from above. (Satan In The Wait)

Don’t tell me how to do my job you gimme-gimme son of a bitch. They got a name for people like you but I don’t give a good goddamn to remember what it is now. (The Reason They Hate Me)

I need a place to bury the soulless, charming, winter-hell creature upon me. Who boarded the windows? Who closed the screens? (Guest House)

I don’t know what to say when people come apart. The road is long, the road is dark, and these are just the words to somebody else’s song. (Long Road, No Turns)

His shoes come up from off his feet, the shadow haunts him for several yards. The ghosts of what he was, desperate to keep up until gone. Now the road, punching upwards into his soft, naked feet he is never-knowing, never again, forever flowing, no more waiting. His muscles burn, deciding to run till he can run no more. To find everything he can find. To know, to see for himself if there is an ocean beyond the waves. (Ocean Song)

Marshall’s manic and anxious delivery on YWGWYW elevates the record in a way that he hadn’t been able to do on previous Daughters records. Heavy and impacting lyrics covering the deterioration of mental health and becoming unhinged pepper the entire album. It sounds like your’e listening to Marshall slowly devolve into this ghastly, inhumane figure. His cries on the closing track to “LET ME IN” are nothing short of spine-chilling.

When Daughters toured prior to disbanding, they were infamous for their on stage antics. Notable instances include Marshall playing entire shows naked, flossing his ass with the microphone cable, and drinking bottles of piss.

“Sometimes the audience was inconsequential. I just wanted to disgust myself. I just wanted to be this grotesque animal.”

ASF Marshall (vocalist) on past touring antics (Revolver Mag)

Marshall struggled with alcoholism throughout the band’s original run. Going into the release of YWGWYW he was 10 years sober, allowing himself to deliver a portrait of mental health and addiction vividly described by someone who made it out the other side.

Upon its release You Won’t Get What You Want was met with universal acclaim. At the beginning of 2018, few would have expected the comeback album from an almost decade-dead noise rock band to release possibly the 2010’s most disturbing rock masterpiece.

Daughters Performing Live (Wikipedia)

Inside the sarcophagus

How did this happen? What happened in those 8 years on hiatus to create this? What happened to the band who named songs things like Pants, Meet Shit?

That band is gone, they exploded with the reactor. All we have left are the decaying remnants, the horrifying byproduct of a failed explosion, sitting deep in a basement. They weren’t supposed to create a masterpiece, not like this.

Could this album have even been created another way? If Daughters never split up, didn’t have to build YWGWYW piece by piece with months between writing and recording, would the have album been this good? If Daughters wasn’t a radioactive blob decaying in an abandoned plant, trapped in a sarcophagus, could they have done this?

I don’t think so; an album of this magnitude isn’t made in a day. It needs to seer in its own radioactive waste, slowly morphing from traditional mathcore into an unrecognizable beast. Time did not age Daughters like fine wine, it rotted them like a corpse.

The latest recorded photo of the Elephant’s Foot, no longer radioactive enough to interfere with the camera. (US Department of Energy)

The last time the elephant’s foot was seen, it only emitted 1/10th of its previous radiation. Fatal exposure once at only 300 seconds now is well over an hour. While its still molten hot, the radioactivity that made it so toxic to begin with is depleting.

“It’s more enjoyable now that I’m aware of what’s happening to me and who I’m talking to and having personally more fulfilling experiences.” Marshall said about his experience touring sober. “There’s a lot of life, and when you’re all fucked up, you’re missing it.”

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