Just when you think that Ex:Re, the solo project of Daughter’s Elena Tonra, couldn’t get any better its re-imagined and invigorated with the help of the virtuosic, 12 Ensemble. The cathartic concept album that exposes the deepest and most raw elements of post-breakup self-exploration is an elegant masterpiece of its own accord. But, stripped of the synths and slow rumbling drums, this one-off rendition, to celebrate the anniversary of its release, ascends the album to another level of artistry.
As part of the Venus Unwrapped series, which aims to celebrate female talent in the music industry, the dynamic and innovative 12-string arrangement is composed by Josephine Stephenson – one of the only collaborators on the recorded album. It is apparent from the offset that to have created pieces so harmoniously matched, Stephenson must be as comparably close to the album as Tonra.
The lights dim, Tonra and ensemble fill the stage and the small auditorium is cloaked in a pensive cloud as the audience prepare for the first melancholy, poetic verse to permeate the room. ‘Where The Time Went’ opens and the expertise of 12 Ensemble is revealed. The spell is momentarily lapsed when Tonra’s guitar falls from her shoulder, promoting an impromptu and nervous ‘hello’ followed by a restart.
Part of what makes the Ex:Re project so standout is the way in which it encapsulates all stages of heartbreak; from deep sadness, to guilt and anger. The strings are bold but not overbearing, perfectly matching the tone of each song. Aside from the classic connotation that strings are sorrowful, they not only emphasise the sadder elements of the album but add a new dimension to the bitterness embedded within the angrier songs. A crescendo is reached during the instrumental of ‘I Can’t Keep You’ and the full force of the strings reverberate around the room. ‘Liar’ relies heavily on drums, but as the 12 piece pluck the strings of their instruments, the ensemble are so gripping that it’s hard to imagine the album version anymore.
Sequentially ending on ‘My Heart’, the most desperate and raw feature of the album is left as bare as possible- some audience members subtly wipe their weeping eyes. After receiving a standing ovation, Tonra returns to stage, with just a quartet, and admits to the same – a small cry backstage. The choice of ‘All That I Wanted’ from Daughter’s Music Before The Storm, as the encore piece suggests that Ex:Re, as a stand-alone project, has fulfilled its purpose. For the small group of fans in the room, tonight has given them all that they wanted, and more.
Words by Daisy Woodley