Feb 15, 2023
By Michelle Dalarossa
Shape-shifting and soulful, Liv.e has been a quietly potent force in alternative R&B and hip-hop for years. Her breakout project, 2018’s hoopdreams, got her the attention of Earl the Sweatshirt and a spot on tour with him, but it was her highly-praised 2020 debut album Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… that solidified her reputation as an R&B innovator. On it, she boldly fused soul, jazz, and lo-fi samples into vignette-like tracks marked by their wry and conversational tones.
Three years later, Liv.e’s sophomore effort, Girl in the Half Pearl, sees the Dallas-bred, Los Angeles-based artist reconfiguring these same elements into a percolating collection of songs that traces the arc and aftermath of a fervent relationship, exploring the painstaking process of self-growth that follows. Like her previous album, most of the 17 tracks are brief snippets under three minutes, but there’s a newfound weight and vulnerability to her narrations that ring with visceral emotion. “When I looked inside my brain/there were all these webs of pain” she sings on the frenzied “Gardetta.” “Sorry if it came off insecure/I’m learning to love myself/I’m sorry that I’ve been so distant/I’m tryna learn how to let it go,” she murmurs on the astral “Snowing!” The album is littered with moments of rawness and urgency, reaching climaxes on tracks like “Ghost” and “Clowns” that see Liv.e’s swirling emotionality balloon into instances of blistering yells.
Sonically, much of the album’s production mirrors its heavier lyrical material with computerized soundscapes full of skittish breakbeats and an industrial edge. Glitched out feedback spikes through “Six Weeks” and tech-driven loops run through “HowTheyLikeMe!” and “Our Father,” bringing a jagged velocity to the tracks. This direction is a new one for Liv.e, but she stitches them seamlessly into the mercurial textures of her songs, always returning to her jazz-driven melodic sensibilities and crackling lo-fi samples with the use of saxophones, pianos, and layers of harmonized vocals. When they’re not produced by Liv.e, several songs are produced by Mndsgn, her alt R&B/sample-heavy contemporary, and it’s easy to hear the Liv.e of Couldn’t Wait to Tell You… in the resulting tracks: synth-soul and sunny, with her warbling voice languidly nimble.
To contain this many sounds and probe this many emotional episodes—from the breathlessness of blooming love to the deception of a failed relationship, the insecurity of missing someone to the confidence of letting go—is no easy feat, but one of Liv.e’s greatest strengths lies in her fluidity and bold instincts. Girl in the Half Pearl picks up where her debut album left off, taking it sonically farther and thematically further. The result is an album that is dynamic and layered, often in flux and always exuding personality. (www.o-liv.bandcamp.com)
Author rating: 8/10
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