You’re not supposed to know what’s going on. That’s the point. For the Dallas-born, Los Angeles-based multihyphenate Liv.e, life can be just as hectic as her music. Liv.e transforms her voice into a tool that helps her navigate through a labyrinth of emotions, twisting and turning through genres with fluidity. Her lyrics follow a stream of consciousness; her songs play out with an unpredictable narrative, with the same tumultuousness as her daily life when she was recording.
Less than halfway through “LessonsFromMyMistakes… but I Lost Your Number,” Liv.e fades out the groove of a double-time jazz combo. A few moments of silence pass until she grabs hold of the mic once again. She returns with more ambition: a little clearer, a little louder, a little more articulate. Liv.e whispers: “I know, I know you thought the song was over, but that’s incorrect because life keeps going,” leaving the jazz loop to pick up right where it left off, playing the same exact tune as it did before.
I mention this line to Liv.e as we’re sitting outside of Highly Likely, an open-air coffee shop on West Adams in Los Angeles. It’s a favorite spot of Liv.e’s: quick, convenient, and just close enough for her to walk out in her pink fur boots, denim jacket, and cowgirl hat. Amidst low-vibrational feedback from the cafe’s outdoor speaker playing ’80s synthpop, Liv.e explains that her music is “made to sound like inner thoughts.”
Where 2020’s Couldn’t Wait To Tell You… was frantic and dissociated, Liv.e’s new album Girl In The Half Pearl is a direct contemplation on the world around her. This time around, the recording sessions were more cathartic, more introspective, more invasive. The rollout has been a whirlwind of picking at old wounds, testing to see which sounds will represent orchestrated chaos and which sounds will make her “feel this shit again.”
Although the album title is vaguely reminiscent of the painting Girl With A Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer, Liv.e shuts down any and all similarity: “White art?” she retorts between laughs. “The fuck do I look like?” Liv.e tells me that the Girl In The Half Pearl is actually inspired by a moment of detachment, looking at a miniature version of herself standing in a snowglobe that has been shaken up. Even when she’s trapped within the confines of a flooded half pearl, Liv.e is aware that even if her microcosm of a world is shaken up, the snowflakes will inevitably settle back down at her feet, under her control.
“It’s like my own personal fourth wall just broke, and all of my delusions and all of my expectations and truths about everything like myself — the walls were coming down, fast,” Liv.e tells me. Heartbreak underlines the album; heartache defines the catharsis. At age 25, Olivia Williams has decided that she wants to take control of her life in new ways. As teased in her “Wild Animals” video, Liv.e reveals to me, “I’ve always wanted to be a dominatrix.” The BDSM pet play gear represents autonomy; whether it’s achieving sexual liberation through premeditated celibacy or understanding that “the chase” is what keeps her interested.
Liv.e’s learning just like the rest of us. The same artist that chose to record the unmixed RAW DAYBREAKS VOL. 1 in one sleepless night is now telling me, “I do like to take my time with things.” She’s not that same artist anymore; she’s evolving. When Couldn’t Wait To Tell You… was released, Liv.e could have been compared to any single member of the Soulequarians. She presented a collage of psychedelia infused with traditionally black genres, swinging in the groove of Dilla time, compiling the practices of artists like Q-Tip, Erykah Badu, and D’Angelo. She has the buttery vocals of a soul singer paired with lo-fi and offbeat jazz-samples, typically used to ramble about the trials and tribulations of love in the digital age; love in a time where you have to force yourself to go outside; love in a time where asking someone to physically write their phone number down is an anomaly.
Rightfully so, Liv.e deems the Soulequarians comparison to be outdated. Although she’s been co-signed by Erykah Badu, hosting the release party of Couldn’t Wait To Tell You… on Badu World Market’s website back in 2020, the two blur the lines of hip-hop, R&B, and soul music. Girl In The Half Pearl is genreless. Liv.e toys with her own emotions, blending drum ‘n’ bass with thrash punk on songs like “Ghost,” using the soft hum of electric keyboards as a bridge away from the calamity. Synth-heavy, electro-industrial beats such as that of “HowTheyLikeMe!” give Liv.e the space to feel herself. She bubbles with pride, making songs that hype herself up and offer a renewed power to the feminine.
Girl In The Half Pearl has an analog fuzziness that can revive memory. The project flashes from images of a white Christmas matched with the soft crackle of embers in the fireplace, to distorted echoes of Liv.e suffering in desolation, to helium-raised chipmunk soul on “Glass Shadows.” When put together with her recent interest in ’90s French minimal wave artist Philippe Laurent, Liv.e is creating her own interpretation of hypnagogic pop, evoking psychedelic nostalgia across genres. The proceeding sound is cold, dejected, and aloof, but trancelike and heartfelt.
Spiraling through her emotions and slowly reconnecting with her psyche, Liv.e delivers a musical rendition of her journey through womanhood. She confronts love with sly curiosity; she seethes with self-inflicted malice on lines like “I BREAK THE MIRROR 90 TIMES DON’T WANT TO SEE MYSELF”; she prays and doses psychedelics to find peace. As Liv.e unravels and reveals her true self, she asks that her listeners leave the project with a feeling. She doesn’t want you to dissect incorrect Genius analyses, and she doesn’t want you to passively spin her new record in the background. Liv.e clarifies: “I just want them to listen and moreso ask me what they want to know.… And my name is pronounced Liv.”