By Fiona Spencer-Piacentini
The subject of “Ex:Re” is self-explanatory: on the album Elena Tonra, performing as Ex:Re, produces an x-ray of the fractures left by a previous relationship.
Cutting and haunting lyrics are layered over cathartic steady beats; vulnerability expressed within the security of comforting musical composition. Fans of Daughter will find some familiarity in Tonra’s rich spangly alto, but they can expect to find this solo debut an even more probing experience.
Therapy comes in the form of cello, pedals, synths, guitar and piano. Tonra hasn’t previously used piano as part of Daughter - equally new and refreshing is the use of cello.
Although the album is ‘regarding ex’, the focus is on the absence of this figure rather than the specifics of what happened in their presence. It’s about what is left, rather than who has either decided to or been asked to leave. Only two tracks serve as a minor exception to this, the first and the final: “Where The Time Went” is a slow beginning to the record, on which deep and therapeutic cello is detectable, and the final track (“My Heart”).
“Crushing” gives a surge in tempo, written on guitar and drums. The song is about communication: it’s easier for us to engage through the third-party of technology rather than direct face-to-face dialogue. Tonra, in her in interview with DIY magazine, seems to think that technology facilitates immaturity and distance. We all find ourselves waiting on texts and wondering if the other person is playing games with us:
“I can’t wait more hours, I’ve been there so long
Longing for you to be an adult”
Loneliness is central feature of the album. “Romance” chronicles this aspect of the breakup, the desire for intimacy, the vulnerability and unfound emotional connection involved in a one-night stand. The chorus is blunt and catchy: “Romance is dead and done/And it hits between the eyes on this side”. Indeed, if there’s one way to describe the effect of the entire album on the listener, it’s probably to be found in this lyric. Cutting candidness is peppered all over the album but particularly prevalent in this track:
“I thought of another the whole time”
“I could begin to open up and risk desire”
Heart-wrenchingly brutal – Tonra certainly doesn’t shy away from cold, explicit language. “Too Sad”, very frankly, tells of the difficulty in readjusting back into life after someone else has been subsumed into it. In short, it tells of the pain of their absence:
“I see our fingerprints on household things
I'm too sad to touch
I feel your skin on human beings
I'm too sad to fuck”
Tonra here excels at synthesising personal and universal experiences together with a steady drum. A sense of pain, aching, is continual: the close of “Liar” is particularly haunting, where “What you’re doing to me now, ouch” is repeated in the outro.
Both “New York” and “The Dazzler” are set in the same location and explore similar themes: primarily that of numbing pain through alcohol. The former track delves into storytelling and fantasy and in the latter track Tonra finds a strange sad strength in a New York hotel room.
I’ll be honest, this album is far from uplifting and consequently took me a while to process, reflect and review: perhaps this is because Tonra so beautifully and harrowingly taps into such universal experiences. Listening to Ex:Re can be somewhat traumatic, but ultimately it is like being swaddled in a cotton blanket and bobbed along in a rocking chair.