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Matriarch Austin Nguyen , November 24th, 2021 09:26

Portland, Oregon's Liyv shines amidst the simplicity of murmuring percussion and stained-glass glitches, finds Austin Nguyen

Halfway through the title track of Liyv’s new album, Matriarch, the Portland-based singer makes a confession to her lover. The atmosphere is murky and skeletal, composed of only a rattling tic and muted bass, but Liyv’s thin soprano rings out clearly: “You know I lie / To calm my mind.” Love becomes sacrificial – a ritual of denying truth, denying self (“You call me out at night / And I obey”) – and Liyv worships at its altar.

Much of Matriarch falls in this vein: love songs converted into incantations, accompanied by warm melting synths and the faintest murmur of percussion. If her debut album Apoptosis experimented with burbling verdant electronics, then Matriarch is an exercise in asceticism that recalls the less uncanny-valley parts of FKA Twigs’ LP1. Each song is sensitive to the touch, the slightest change – footsteps on wood, creaking metal – seemingly world-shifting, but still feels as rich as the velvet red on the album’s cover.

Liyv’s voice sounds fuller, too, given more space to breathe as it becomes less filtered through Apoptosis’ nasally prism of vocal manipulation. Her pure-tone coo glides effortlessly through melismas, the consonants smoothed over sometimes to the point where words become glossolalia in the reverb of a cathedral. When AutoTune is used, it’s used with restraint, curling in at the end of phrases or fragmented into stained-glass glitches on ‘Syzygy’.

Rarely is there a moment of excess, which keeps the focus on where it belongs: Livy’s words, gnomic and direct as a casted spell at times. “Take it for show, soft when I try to hold on now,” she near-whispers rubato on “Balance,” the melody draped like gossamer. Not all of Matriarch is as cryptic though – and all the better for it. On the fluttering, spectral ‘Sanctuary’, self-abnegation reaches its brutal climax: “I break my hands to care for you somehow.”

Even with the limited range of instrumentation on the album, Matriarch seldom feels static, drawing from different sounds, but reinventing them with a supernatural tint. ‘Damage’ finds Livy treading into R&B territory – specifically the churning, late-night broodings of ‘Toxic’-era Kehlani – to channel all its sensual allure in a votive staccato: “I get you caught up in my love.” On the other side of the BPM spectrum is ‘Don’t Look Away’, which turns the slowburn pulse of ‘Damage’ into a steady pant, Liyv’s voice modified into a melancholic flute.

Liyv shines, however, on moments of mystical simplicity like ‘Let Me Know’: her voice unadorned, floating untethered to any center of gravity while synths ripple out like water. “How can I tell you that I care? How can I let you know I’m there?”, she pleas woundedly, as if repenting. The music swells into the menace of metallic clatters, the chasmic reverberations of the bass. “I am terrified / Let it go / You take over”: She, herself, has become the sacrifice, a martyr for love.