Album Review: Liv.e – Girl In The Half Pearl

[In Real Life/AWAL; 2023]

Liv.e‘s second album Girl In The Half Pearl is the sound of reinvention stuck in a loop. Weaving an abstract web of lo-fi hiphop, spectral soul, ambient noise and retrofuturistic breakbeat, it’s clear the Los Angeles-based artist and producer has zero interest in achieving cohesion at this stage of her career. The album’s 41 minute, 17-track runtime only has one listener in mind: Liv.e herself.

And by decree, Half Pearl doesn’t tie her feelings and impulses into neat, easily digested chunks. They run unchecked, bending the very sonics to their frenzied personality. Extremes are deftly reconciled: sultry jazz flourishes wondrously coexist with hissed industrial beats on early highlight “Six Weeks”.

Given the many inner voices Liv.e displays on the record – from unhinged whispers to manic howls (a range fully explored on the drum&bass-inflected “Ghost”) – it’s easy to describe Half Pearl as a diaristic project. The way she marries discord with melody, however, feels more in tune with the physicality of nightlife, the brisk cacophony of loud music and street hullabaloo. The tracks resonate like acute glimpses into Liv.e’s frenetic mental state (she stated in an interview with Clash Magazine she was “scared of people hearing her thoughts”).

On the swirling psych soul of “Heart Break Escape” – one of the more fully-formed songs on Half Pearl – she musters the courage to engage with relationships again, whereas the cavernous, arpeggiated “Snowing” strikes like a numbed solitary meditation under the spell of narcotic vapors. It’s clear that with Half Pearl, Liv.e is intent on primarily setting a scene, not per se trying to explain the plot, much like the best found-footage films tend to do.

Because of the fractured, whimsical makeup of the album, it can become a bit frustrating for the listeners hoping to detect Half Pearl‘s beating heart. But listen close enough, and resolve is there beneath the rubble in the chopped jazz pop of “Wild Animals”, in which Liv.e struts to her own self-belief, untethered from other people’s expectations of her. The Brainfeeder-esque acid soul of “Lake Psilocybin” washes in self-affirming bliss. And on the omniscient, “Find Out” Liv.e indeed finds out that many of life’s lessons are learned the hard way, and makes peace with letting the fucking around run its due course. “Our Father”, meanwhile, evokes Liv.e’s God-fearing upbringing: she poignantly samples Helen Baylor’s gospel hymn If It Had Not Been for the Lord on My Side”, a song that specifically addresses the breaking of toxic cycles.

Indeed, as the title suggests Girl In The Half Pearl is a journey through existential stasis, one of coming into womanhood through all the trials, misadventures, and revelations along the way. It’s a long messy road Liv.e explores within the full breadth of her musical talents. And at the album’s best moments, that no-holds-barred inventiveness makes your head shake in disbelief: “Clowns”, for instance, climactically unfolds from wonky electro-funk to a raging noise assault. Closer “Glass Shadows” – with its almost cartoonish show tune vocal harmonics – suggests that Liv.e broke the loop of Half Pearl‘s compulsory and uncompromising dysfunction, seeing a source of light to chase down to the next chapter.

The album does leave you to wonder how Liv.e would nurture her craft into a more fully-formed pop statement. You get the sense Half Pearl was something the artist had to get out her system at all costs before moving on to the next thing. That next thing is anybody’s guess; judging from this vast sonic character study, it’ll be one that leaves no stone unturned.