Lucy Liyou/Yska “A Need/A Want”

It always takes me a little while to process Lucy Liyou’s work and the journey it takes me on. Visceral scenes become sonic assertions in her hands, the ambient drift churning out mountains of pensive tension cascading toward a heaven promised in our better days. Once the moment hits, as it always does in her work, there’s no way to rebuild the dam fast enough. Liyou chips away the keystone and lets the flood go where it may.

A Need/A Want pushes even further into the void with the collaborative efforts of Philadelphia-based guitarist and lyricist, Yska. Early in “A Need,” chord progressions sing languid laments kissed by shadows dancing just out of view. Liyou’s use of text-to-speech always lands, and the way she gently slows down the intonation and stretches the empty spaces add considerable heft. “Haven’t we met before, somewhere?” the disembodied robotic voice asks, the words carrying surprising emotion, the subtle lilt on ‘where’ curious, but concerned. With the soundscape drifting into angled keystrokes and glitching backgrounds, the moment fades. 

Nobody is creating music like Liyou. As “A Need” descends into an aural hellscape, the palette shifts. Distorted guitar howls in the background while hollow percussive blasts jar the connective tissue loose. “Please help,” the voice calls, “You have to vomit. I see you looking back at me like a hardened reflection.” The inner war boils, life stops for a moment, and the drones overwhelm all senses. There’s something beautiful in all this detritus, but it’s a lot to take in. 

When the sides switch, “A Want” is like a dream. Chirping birds, whimsical pads, and introspective piano passages all lead to a quiet, disarming place. The surface cracks tell a different story, though. Footsteps trudge through puddles as anxiety builds. Bass-driven noise pours out, swallowing the spilled water in one gulp before spraying it like caustic acid across the verdant landscape. Inaudible whispers beseech the ghosts to take what’s left of our frail bodies, to grind us into dust, and scatter our ashes in the stars where we belong.

In the end, “A Want” turns out to be what we need. The waves grow in strength; the wind’s direction shifts. Light returns on a rolling sea of synthetic harmonies and psychic revelations. Liyou’s voice cuts through everything, a scalpel with surgical precision saturated with the blood and emotions shed along the way. Whether we’ve arrived in paradise or not, it doesn’t matter. We are where we need to be. Liyou pours everything into her work and, buoyed by Yska’s shapeshifting grit, it soars in a bed of trauma and never stops searching for the key to unlocking the sky.

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