What I'm Listening To: 'You Won't Get What You Want' by Daughters
For the past week or so, I have found myself coming back to the album You Won’t Get What You Want by Daughters. For one, it provides a cathartic chaos. It’s also just a phenomenal record. Most importantly, it manages to demonstrate the bleak reality of the human race through our current global situation. To understand this, however, we must understand the album in the context of its release.
When the news came out that Daughters was coming back to release an album in the fall of 2018, fans held their breath. It had been nearly a decade since their last release — a self-titled record which heightened and refined the brutal noise rock sound that they explored in the 2000s. Daughters felt like a perfect yet bittersweet send-off to the band, which disbanded shortly before the release and only showed hints of reuniting in 2015. When the first single for the new album was released, it was clear something big was on the horizon. The song’s seven minute length posed a drastic change for the group (this was a band whose debut album was 11 minutes long). Needless to say, the hype was real.
What did we get? Perhaps more than we anticipated. You Won’t Get What You Want will most definitely go down as one of the most terrifying albums of the decade. Just the cover art, a once-human face grotesquely melted into a monstrous form, creates a sense of dread. As it turns out, the cover is actually the least frightening aspect of the album.
For me, the terror starts immediately with the first track “City Song.” It begins with a low thunderous drone and the steady pulsing of the kick drum. Out of nowhere, a sharp snare pierces the soundscape. This continues for quite some time, building a horrible anticipation. For a moment, the sound fades out to nothing, only to come back in an explosion of sound and texture. This cycle repeats itself several times on the track, adding more textures each time until the song sounds like a siren warning impending doom. Meanwhile, frontman Alexis Marshall is spewing lyrics about a doomed city in absolute monotone.
You Won’t Get What You Want is absolutely unrelenting. After something as jarring and turbulent as “City Song,” a track that would probably be the climax of any other record, you’d expect something softer for contrast, or at least a pause between songs. With the next track “Long Road, No Turns,” there is no pause. This song is a maelstrom. Every inch is taken up by sound. It has a carnival-like quality to it, if said carnival was made up of malevolent power tools. You could imagine my shock when I found out they were only using guitars to achieve that sound.
Every song explores noise rock through different means, which allows each track to distinguish itself. The single “Satan in the Wait” has a chorus that embraces a sort of gothic organ sound that is almost medieval. “Less Sex” is the type of dark pop that I’d want to hear from Billie Eilish. The song “Daughter” finds a way to mix a bossa nova beat with harshly echoing guitars. “Ocean Song” is a marathon of a track that somehow makes a steel drum-esque texture sound terrifying. The closer “Guest House” sees the band combine frantic guitar parts with oppressive horns. The point is that Daughters does this seamlessly, and they maintain a certain level of melodicism to counteract the overwhelming harshness.
The reason I’m able to call You Won’t Get What You Want a perfect album, however, doesn’t have to do with the sound. Yes, the sound provides the foundation for the album, but the concept and lyricism are the icing on top. Alexis Marshall evokes the likes of Nick Cave, Tom Waits and even some Bob Dylan with his storytelling. The way the project wrestles with insanity, paranoia and tragedy feels deeply personal but also vague enough to apply to anyone. With this in mind, I think the album grapples with “the beast within,” or the idea that humanity has an inherent monstrous nature buried within us all, lying dormant. The track “Ocean Song” in particular captures this in detailing the story of a normal man who’s overcome by a primal urge to run. Perhaps what's most terrifying about this song is that there is no inciting incident. This inhuman feeling just shows up.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a sobering reminder of how tragic and brutal life can get. You Won’t Get What You Want could not be a better companion to this sentiment (it’s literally in the title). Lyrics like “This city is an empty glass / Shops are closed” and “Today’s gonna feel like tomorrow, some day / Tomorrow’s gonna feel like yesterday / This world is opening up” feel more relevant now than they did in 2018. The idea of “the beast within” is manifested in reality — coronavirus has brought with it extreme hoarding, a rise in domestic abuse and total uncertainty. You Won’t Get What You Want displays an internal apocalypse through the presentation of an external one, something I hadn’t realized until now.