Boomkat Product Review:
Lucy Liyou's second album is a startling, operatic wonderland that pulls as much secret sauce from Mariah Carey as it does Klein. Asking what happens when we dream, Liyou softens the fantasy with soaring vocals, scintillating jazzy piano phrases and subtly industrial textures, channeling Julee Cruise, claire rousay and Robert Ashley all at once.
Artistry can be a little like magic when aesthetic concerns are put to one side and personal perspective takes over. Lucy Liyou is a consummate storyteller, something we first heard on the Korean-American's whimsical debut 'Welfare', originally released on Klein's Ijn Inc. label back in 2020. Using now ubiquitous text-to-speech snippets to narrate semi-biographical anecdotes and splicing them with information age detritus and ornamental piano flourishes, they offered their own interpretation of pansori, a form of Korean folk opera that's endured since the 17th century.
On 'Dog Dreams', Liyou's previous recordings hang like vapors in the air, pierced by the artist's confident, theatrical vocals and emotional acoustic piano performances. Made up of three lengthy movements, the album was co-produced with Nick Zanca (fka Mister Lies), who initially worked with Liyou remotely before they connected in his Ridgewood studio. The duo wanted to capture the contradictions of the dream world - the Korean term “개꿈”, literally "dog dreams", can mean anything from a daydream to a nightmare - so prioritized improvisation, capturing loose thoughts and whimsical asides in their billowing, ASMR-rich soundscapes.
The sprawling title track begins with minuscule saliva sounds and unidentifiable electroid whispers that draw us slowly but purposefully into Liyou's dreamworld. Fantastical but sensitive, it's not completely dissociated, although the sounds might suggest that - rather Liyou reaches into a surreal space between the physical world and one that's a little harder to reach. When piano enters the frame it helps aerate an emotional atmosphere that's made up of fragments of popular culture, not just worthy experimental aesthetic tics. Liyou's obsession with classic R&B is already well documented, and there's also a nod to melodramatic Disney soundtracks, soap operas and TV adverts. Each sound is wielded with purpose to situate us inside a world that's often disregarded in the avant-garde, a hierarchy-free, diaristic landscape that's lavish, vulnerable and unfashionably honest.
The track builds into cinematic, ambient ecstasy before Liyou's vocals rise above the noise, exposed and shockingly intimate. Vacillating between spoken word and operatic phrasing, Liyou sounds as if they're singing us to sleep, subconsciously directing our nocturnal hallucinations towards love. The mood spills over into 'April in Paris', a haunted reinterpretation of a Vernon Duke jazz standard that uses the original's tentative wonder to deconstruct the unshakeable memory of a sexual assault. Beginning with breathy murmurs that remind us of Robert Ashley's timeless 'Automatic Writing', the track oozes into moody cabaret jazz led by Liyou's piano and Andrew Weathers’ guitar strums and synths. "Sometimes / I worry I want to transition / To feel clean again," Liyou utters over rainfall and traffic noise.
And when the piece mutates into warbling, dictaphone recorded lo-fi, it sounds as if we're hearing the artist's most private thoughts before they're stretched into widescreen with HD production processes. All this makes the track's finale even more crushing: "the outer person is not always the inner person," a voice exclaims, as Liyou's music hall echoes and industrial treatments get louder and louder. 'Fold the Horse' then gives us a romantic conclusion, shifting into cybernetic fantasy before opening up Liyou's most affecting vocal performance yet. "Please don't let me go," they cry, hitting the emotional heights of radio pop but stripping away all the unnecessary elements. It's a crushingly original approach to experimental music, using sprawling cultural markers to assemble a sound that's not just new, it's utterly magical.