Album Review: Luna Li – Duality

[In Real Life; 2022]

While most of the music industry was devastated by the pandemic, singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Luna Li attained a significant following. Confined to her bedroom, she made a series of jam videos on her own, weaving together sounds of guitar, bass, piano, violin, and harp in intricate ways. The videos deconstructed her compositions, allowing her listeners to catch a glimpse of how she arranges her songs one instrument at a time. These dreamy and carefree tunes served as a welcome break from the general anxiety in the world and went viral amongst various social media platforms. She later released these songs as the jams EP, a short and sweet project that demonstrated her refined musicianship and production skills. 

Conversely, her debut album Duality was made over a four-year process, which provides listeners a small window into Luna’s progression as both a vocalist and instrumentalist over the course of the album. The tracks reflect her endeavor to figure out how to navigate life through the years of early adulthood. In one of the album’s singles, “Afterglow”, Luna sings of trying to realize her sense of self-worth. “Oh how I love you but I need to explore / How to be alone, alone.” Likewise, in “Magic” she asserts her autonomy by declaring, “I belong to no one but myself / So I’ll do what I do.” 

This theme of self-worth is intertwined with Luna’s attempts to feel whole while alone. Especially during the anxiety-filled times of social distancing, finding comfort in being alone is a skill that people learn to keep their heads above water. But feeling whole is a different story – it’s a romance between a person and their capital-S Self and a journey that one goes through to reach adulthood. Luna isn’t quite there yet, but her willingness to be introspective propels her towards self-love. Rather than viewing loneliness in a negative light, tracks like “Alone But Not Lonely” and “Space” celebrate it; the former repeats the refrain “alone but not lonely” as a calming mantra while the latter states “I glow when I’m alone / You go, and I glow.” 

Luna’s self-reflection also allows her to look back at her past. In the album’s opener, “Cherry Pit”, Luna recalls an old family memory of spitting cherry pits down into a forest. In between passages of dreamy production, she promises to make the most out of life when she realizes that even good things don’t last forever. “Silver Into Rain” with beabadoobee sees Luna contemplating her insecurities, singing “I’m too young for my age / Too shy for the stage, too careful to be brave.” She hopes to eventually grow past these doubts and blossom into a more confident individual. 

To convey these feelings, Luna uses the imagery of nature. She’s particularly inspired by the moon – a being that shares her sense of duality as a light shining through the dark. Luna also weaves images of a sky that expresses an entire spectrum of colors. In the closer “Lonely/Lovely”, she shares her ability to draw on nature’s energy by calling on her listeners to “stare at the sky” just before an orchestral swell. In the aforementioned “Silver Into Rain”, Luna processes her feelings through nature, and in “Star Stuff” nature is a unifying factor that grants a sort of universality in every person. 

Sonically, the album shines with its diverse set of layered instrumentation. In many of the tracks, Luna adeptly combines classical music with indie and psychedelic pop sounds. “Alone But Not Lonely” begins with a soaring strings section before making way to a stand-out fuzzy guitar solo. Likewise, “Magic” perfectly accompanies a descending guitar melody with majestic strings passages. However, this varied instrumentation can at times lead to a lack of coherency when combined with Luna’s vocals. The chorus in “What You’re Thinking” and its accompanying guitar riff don’t quite mesh with the rest of the song, making the transitions into and out of the chorus sound jumbled. In addition, the choice to imbue “Flower (In Full Bloom)” with R&B-influenced vocals is admirable but detracts from the momentum of the song’s instrumentation. 

Although the singles “Afterglow” and “Trying” are relatively less diverse in their instrumental progression, they both elevate the tracks by perfectly complementing Luna’s vocal delivery. But that’s not to say the album works best in the absence of surprises. The key change in “Space” is delightful and adds direction to both the psychedelic vocals and production while the stunning full strings arrangement of “Lonely/Lovely” only accentuates Luna’s angelic vocals. 

Luna previously demonstrated her detailed ear for production in the jams EP and now does so in Duality. Her potential can only grow from here whether she decides to add even more instruments to her arsenal, refine her ability to match up her specific production with her vocals, or go for something completely different. Regardless, at heart Luna is a storyteller, relating the dual experience of struggle and celebration as the balancing act of life.