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The Lead Review

Tape Echoes: Couldn’t Wait To Tell You… By Liv.e
Michael Appouh , July 30th, 2020 07:53

Liv.e embraces dislocations of time and space on debut album, Couldn’t Wait To Tell You…

More than ten years on from the collective's first tape, the fingerprints of Odd Future’s hijacking of the music industry are still present in the form of a growing lo-fi scene that threatens to make genre obsolete. Shifting the sound of rap and R&B away from the high polish of the major labels towards the unruly arena of the bedroom, the DIY approach adopted in their wake has left both genres more jagged and infinitely more interesting. The 2010’s were undoubtedly OFWGKTA’s decade, with graduates Frank Ocean and Tyler, the Creator establishing themselves as critical darlings and cult heroes for their free spirited experimentation and stubborn refusal to play the industry game. Their authenticity, playfulness and imagination are instructive for two of 2020’s best projects so far, in KeiyaA’s Forever, Ya Girl and Navy Blue’s Ada Irin. Now count a third with Liv.e’s Couldn’t Wait To Tell You…

The “You” in this case, isn’t an external audience. Instead Liv.e dedicates her debut to herself, using the twenty track run to indulge in the internal; learning from past mistakes, focusing on growth and trying to replace preoccupations with fleeting romance for longer lasting self love. Opening track ‘What’s The Real’ introduces us into her hazy sample-warped world, already in dialogue with herself, fictional characters and foreign species talking over one another, vying to occupy the same soundscape without undermining their contradictory desires. She draws out her delivery and layers her lyrics, shifting its pitch and evading harmony, asking herself, “Everybody’s got a love story right?” Each voice has a different answer. “Well not everybody” says one in a whisper. “Yours must be a secret.”

Describing the record in interviews as a collection of characters sharing pages from a collective diary, Couldn’t Wait... feels earnest in its pursuit of self reflection. Double track ‘Lessons From My Mistakes… But I Lost Your Number’ breezily flicks through lyrics like journal pages, repeating commitments to herself with effortless percussion that matches its assuredness. So to does ‘Stories With Aunt Liv’, saying “Self… I know you’re learning, you’re growing and your heart is getting bigger too” but the love is never reserved exclusively for herself, with the sensual ‘About Love at 21’ folding in a silky sample that delights with each loop.

Her 2018 release Hoopdreams which caught the eye of Tyler, the Creator and Earl Sweatshirt, had similar promise, showcasing a catalogue of vintage ephemera marred only by its short run time and habit of shrouding her vocals with reverb and guest artists. Couldn’t Wait… addresses some of those issues but also introduces new ones. Here Liv.e’s vocals take centre stage throughout, especially on ‘These Pipedreams’, the standout track, eliciting a propulsive and psychedelic vocal performance that hasn’t been seen on her previous records. And though some chapters unfold easily, feeling intentional and concise in their experimentation, others are anxious with ideas, blasting through them without being able to feel out the fullness of their potential, like on ‘How She Stay Conflicted’, which oscillates between full-fledged vapourwave and dream pop, but doesn’t quite land on either.

Despite this, the album manages to be wholly fulfilling. Each track takes on its own character, sometimes wispy and laid black, channelling the unbounded soulfulness of Erykah Badu’s New Amerykah albums like on She’s My Brand New Crush. At other times they’re pointed and deliberate, such as ‘Cut To The Chase’, which does away with sung lyrics entirely for statements spoken over tribalistic percussion and futuristic electronic harmonies.

‘I Been Livin’ is an especially luscious track, its keys oozing with the familiarity of the crate-dug hip hop mastered by Nujabes and Ras G, complimenting the dreamy harmonies. And single ‘Sir Lady Makem Fall’ channels the bold glamour of Betty Davis, the song delivered in a growl that’s both alluring and abrasive.

Liv.e splits each part of herself into different persons, each feeling sometimes as if they occupy different worlds. It’s a dislocation compounded by the tracklist’s distortions of genre and era. Surreal and celestial, Couldn’t Wait To Tell You… embraces the almost space between the familiar and the unheard.