Words by: Marion Suchowiecky (KCSB External Music Director 22-23′)
Listening to Liv.e’s newest project Girl In The Half Pearl is a mind-whirling experience. After one listen, I could only remember bits and pieces- the sound of a toy phone ringing, dynamic rhythm changes, deeply groovy bass, the feeling of being lost inside a mirror house. This album is not an easy listen, it is a jagged and fragmented collection of vignettes painted with an infinitely varied palette. But, perhaps by employing a fluid, ever-changing style in her album, Olivia Williams asks the audience to consider that the only way to accurately represent the complexities of modern relationships is by employing such a dizzying collection of sounds, rhythms, and moods.
Olivia Williams’ style is hard to define because it is embedded with such a wide variety of genres. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that she grew up in a musical household. Williams was exposed to the music industry firsthand from a young age because she often accompanied her father, a professional musician, to his gigs. One can definitely hear the influence of jazz and soul music in this record. Whether it be through a small feature of a saxophone line, or a harmonically and rhythmically complex bass line. For example, at the end of “Lake Psilocybin” Williams features what sounds like a traditional jazz drum solo- albeit faintly in the background of the mix- as a subtle nod to her influences. In the next track, “Ghost,” the beat changes completely to a fast paced, electronic-sounding one, which would be more likely associated with hip hop than jazz or soul. Over this beat, Williams masterfully weaves a jazz piano line, and her fuzzed-out vocals. The conglomeration of such elements, which would intuitively be incompatible, is precisely where the magic of this record lies.
Williams utilizes synthesizers so heavily in this record that I could not keep track of how many different sounds I could distinguish. The heavy usage of synths gives the album an overall futuristic feel, even though Williams is singing about universal, timeless themes. Additionally, Williams voice is a huge highlight throughout the record. Her voice is transmitted through a vocal effect which sounds like she is on the other side of a telephone. At times, her voice is deeply soothing, accompanied by soft harmonies and blending with the melodic elements of the songs. Other times, however, Williams’ voice is just as jarring as the quick rhythm of the percussion, or the metallic synthesizer sounds. The vocal elements of this album stand out as some of the most fluid and dynamic components of the songs.
My favorite track in this project was “Wild Animals.” Though I am usually most attracted to the lyrical choices in a song, I connected with this song because of the instrumentation over the lyrics. The repeated piano line stands out completely when compared to the rest of the tracks. It reminds me of the piano line in “The World Is Yours” by Nas, combined with the overall feel of “Riot!” by Earl Sweatshirt. In keeping with the album’s theme, Liv.e melds this piano melody with lots of interesting sampled sounds, a very thick bass drum sound, and her heavenly voice.
As a whole, Girl In The Half Pearl is uncompromisingly earnest in nature, which allows the listener to feel connected to even the most personal confessions in Williams’ lyrics. Williams’ unmistakingly modern perspective on interpersonal relationships is refreshing in an age of nostalgia because of the way she innovates on aspects of the genres which influence her. I contend that at first listen the record may feel frenetic and disjointed- almost like a miraculously constructed collection of random sounds. Maybe this album represents a genre which is altogether new, and that might be intimidating and uncomfortable for a listener who came into the listening experience with expectations. However, sitting with this album will reveal that it is a carefully and deliberately crafted work, one that embodies the feeling of being one tiny receptor of a million electric currents in this electric society.