Daughter emerged onto the music scene in 2013 with their breakout album If You Leave, rendering first-time listeners and fans across the world in a state of pure despair but wanting more. Elena Tonra, the main vocalist of Daughter, wields a voice that is both soothing and haunting. Combined with the atmospheric waves of guitar strings and drums, and Tonra’s impressive ability to bring images to life through her lyrics, If You Leave in itself is a depressive force to be reckoned with.
With this in mind, it was very difficult to choose one song I considered to be especially disheartening. But finally, I settled on the song “Lifeforms,” because of the somber imagery and message Tonra brings to her audience’s attention.
“From the beginning
They can kill without warning
So you don’t explode”
Immediately we are introduced to the idea of “small lifeforms” followed by a powerful recognition from the narrator that these small lifeforms can kill. In succession with the last line, however, I feel that the small lifeforms can actually both kill and be killed. This gave me the strong assumption that the song is referring to fetuses as the small lifeforms. An unborn child can really alter a woman’s life if its conception is unplanned. A woman could perhaps experience complications during birth that may endanger her life. An unborn child’s life can also be terminated through abortion at an early stage, so that the woman doesn’t “explode,” or show signs of pregnancy.
“Stop your growing limbs and thinking
That you love them now you’re blinking
And reminding her of him”
Here the narrator shows signs of conflict — she knows that she must get an abortion to regain control of her life. However, her ever-growing belly is a reminder that she holds something inside her that is living, of her own flesh and blood. On the other hand, we get a sense of regret from the narrator as her changing body is a reminder of “him,” presumably the man who impregnated her. The narrator is at war within herself. Should she give birth to the child because it’s a living human being? Or should she follow through with her selfish reason to abort the fetus to also abort the memory of this man?
“Oh you steal his features
And your mother is a bleacher
She don’t even feel the heat no
She don’t even want to speak to you”
Here we get a sense that the narrator is leaning towards the abortion now. She’s succumbing to her selfish desire to erase this man from both her body and her memory, because inevitably, the infant will “steal his features” or resemble him in some way, forever reminding her of him. The narrator then describes herself as a “bleacher.” Immediately I thought of the cleaning product, which gets rid of stubborn stains or impurities on white clothing. This is an extremely powerful image, evoking the way she wishes to “bleach” the stain on her life that is this unexpected pregnancy; to revert her life back to purity, like you would cleanse a white shirt of a stain. The narrator tries to set her initial conflicting feelings aside by saying that she doesn’t even feel the “heat” or the life of the fetus inside her, so she doesn’t want anything to do with it. I feel that she is telling this to herself to make the abortion easier.
“But you, you’ll always find another place to go
(Oh you) you’ll always find another womb to grow, to grow, to grow”
The narrator seemingly lies to herself that her unborn child will find happiness elsewhere to grow after the abortion, which makes me think of Heaven. However, the chorus can also be inferred in a more delusional way, in which the mother thinks that there is a place especially for aborted children to go, something like Heaven, or that she believes the fetus will be reincarnated in another woman’s womb.
“Well you can try to sink down deeply
Find the children lost at sea
Find the children who discretely
Were killed in infancy”
These lines solidify that this song is about abortion and sort of plays with the delusional idea I suggested previously. It seems as though the narrator is still set on her abortion, though is accepting the terrible act of it as killing.
“To stop them holding you and screaming
That you’ll lose your wildest dreaming
Still reminding you of him
How he left without reasons”
We are finally at the stage in the song where the narrator goes through with the abortion. We get the sense that she reconsiders her decision on the table, but something or someone in the room reminds her that she’ll “lose her wildest dreaming” or essentially everything she has worked for in her life will be sacrificed if she gives birth to the baby. It seems as though, for the narrator, there are only two options: abort or keep the child. It’s either hers or no one else’s. But what seems to put her at ease once again is the thought that when the fetus is gone, she will no longer be reminded of the man and why he “left without reasons.” She believes that the abortion of her child will stop this pain.
“You can try to forget me but I won’t let you easily
You can try to forget me but I won’t let you easily
I’m floating out in the water, washed out to sea
Drifting away with time you’ll regret you conceived it”
After the abortion, the narrator realizes that the pain from the memory of the man is still there; it is not something that can be forgotten so easily. The last two lines give a brilliant visual of the narrator’s feelings — time has stopped around her and she is just drifting along, forever regretting the decision to abort her child for the purpose of forgetting the man who impregnated her.
“Clean up the dead you leave behind
Just like insects
Clean up the dead you leave behind”
This is hands down the most soul crushing, I-want-to-crawl-under-the-covers-and-cry ending to any song ever. With just one word, insects, Tonra has drained any positive vibes we had left for the day. The narrator assumes responsibility for the death of her child — an insect, something small, feeble, defenseless — and tries to move on with her life following the dead she had left behind. The repetition in these lines accentuates her realization that it’s something she will have to live with forever. She is both the child with the magnifying glass as well as the person who comes by to sweep away the insects.
I hope you had some tissues ready for that one. It’s unclear whether the man that’s referenced in the song is someone who raped the narrator or a boyfriend who decided to ditch her when she told him about the pregnancy. But either way, the subject matter poses for quite the depressing song.
I highly recommend listening to the other songs on If You Leave, as well as Daughter’s equally amazing follow-up album, Not to Disappear. Fair warning, though, I wouldn’t do it on a bad day or without a whole box of Kleenex.
— Bree Scott, Asst. Blog Editor