They Say They Love You

The debut album from Charlotte-born Luci impresses most in its wildest moments, writes Skye Butchard

The original UK release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars came with the instruction “To Be Played At Maximum Volume” printed on the sleeve. Sifting through my dad’s record collection as a kid, it read like a dare. Before playing, I’ve been making a mental note to listen to They Say They Love You at maximum volume, too. It’s the kind of enveloping record that’s a joy to damage your ears to.

Charlotte-born artist Luci started out in a short-lived trip-hop band called Defbeat, where System of a Down and Massive Attack were equal reference points. As a solo artist, she retains that collagist spirit. Brash rapped verses are blended with woozy psych atmosphere and melodic choruses. She writes loved-up jams, apocalyptic ragers, and haunted party tunes.

As a vocalist, she yelps, rasps and croons in elongated drones. She pulls from a lineage of eccentric MCs from ODB to Lil Wayne, while carving out a new space for herself. Like an early Young Thug, she emphasises the voice as an instrument, not just a vehicle for lyrics and melody. Her debut EP Juvenelia had a likeably scrappy practice-room feel, which the debut trades for the weight of an ambitious blockbuster. It works when she digs into her wilder instincts.

Stoned jam ‘Rochwitchu’ pivots from loose live kit to knocking drum machines, a microcosm of the fluidity she explores overall. On ‘Thunder Calling’, she sings the chorus in an unusual key that destabilises the track, and sells it with confidence. ‘Spins’ is an obvious highlight. Her slippery flow is the sound of total control. It also shows her knack for turning odd sounds and vocal twitches into earworms.

These are all good reasons to play it loud. Another comes from the production sheen. Opting for a large, reverb-soaked sound can mean that the nuances of Luci’s vocals get swallowed up, like on the especially swampy ‘Call Jane’. Still, leaning in reveals the depth and detail – the eerie background vocals, the subtle pads, the harp sounds.

Rather than a cohesive statement of intent, this debut is more about the many sides of Luci. Single ‘11.11’ is a sweet pop song about just wanting to dance with your girl. It goes over well. Luci brings heart to her harmonies, even if you’re itching for something with more bite. There’s a trade-off in swapping punk attitude for polish. Let’s hope Luci retains her interesting edges as she grows. “They say I seem sad / I’m just evolving”, she sings on ‘Inside’. Right now, that evolution is exciting.

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