Anxiety Courses Through LIV†'s Flowers in the Void

Local Music, Album Reviews
Martin Douglas
Photo by Abdul Kassamali

Sometimes I get pretty frustrated by the discourse among music fans, where music only exists in a continuum where it stands in relation to other pieces of music. Take "Music Twitter" for instance, where unsolicited opinions crop up whenever I'm chatting with a friend about something cool that came out this year or last year or 35 years ago. Where too many critics are just fine playing Spot the Reference or contextualizing a piece of work to another piece of work or a moment in time which it has nothing to do with it. Miscontextualization is what I'm trying to call it, gross miscontextualization.

I'm personally obsessed with what music has to say, what thought or image or emotion the artist is trying to convey. The disposability of how we talk to each other about music seems like it's on a parallel course with the disposability of a lot of music out there.

Why am I thinking about this in the context of LIV†, the Tacoma-raised, Seattle-dwelling singer/rapper/burgeoning aesthetic icon who may just very well be the most underrated artist in the Pacific Northwest? I think it's because in the context of her blossoming career, Flowers in the Void could be read as an artist throwing her gifts into a bottomless pit of options on a DSP server and quietly living her life in an overcrowded market.

Of course, Flowers in the Void means something completely different in the context of the music itself. It's about tossing love and joy into a proverbial black hole, into the void of endless desire, bottomless anxiety, and a world that takes and gives back absolutely nothing. How does someone cope with that?

LIV† is a fastidiously thoughtful artist who puts all of her emotions into ambitiously conceived music, heavy with thoughts building her up and pulling her down. Last year's Black Girl Unbothered was a resplendent portrait of Black joy in the face of mainstream (yes, I am once again referring to white) media obsessed with Black trauma. Then, our trauma, fears, and anxieties as Black people were dragged into the blinding spotlight as people of all races protested the dozens of police-executed deaths of Black Americans over the next few months. In 2020, LIV† can't even pretend to be carefree, which I'm sure sounds familiar if you are currently reading this review with a working pulse.

On sublime opener "Restless," LIV† oscillates between needing more love and needing more time to herself, stressing she doesn't have enough of either. Closer "Driveway Confessional" expresses some deep-seated feelings about the inability to open up to others. Even on the powerful makeout anthem "Sade to Infinity," a moment of fatalist resignment cuts through the unshakable desire and human need to be who you are: "They might kill us, 'cause that's what they do." The inherent danger of being a Black person in America has shown its head in nearly every situation we go through, and the danger has been amplified in the year the lyric was recorded.

In between the bookends of "Restless" and "Driveway Confessional" the overwhelm from trying to process emotions bleeds into everything; love and ambition and Steve Lacey arena bangers. The reminder that simply existing as a Black, queer woman in the world is a radical act ("One Track Mind"; Black love as a radical act ("Sade to Infinity"); having dreams as a radical act ("Interlude for a Dreamer," featuring a great guest verse from Jaywop). 

This deceptively high-concept project is matched by the production of Noah Coinflip, adding depth and a near-psychedelic sense of musicality for LIV† to sink her teeth into. A dreamlike feel permeates through the five songs he produced on the EP, weaving in and out of a variety of textures and moods. "Steve Lacey Taught Me (Nxt 2 U)," produced by Oldmilk, complements the feel of the project nicely with a sparsely arranged but huge-sounding ballad as LIV† sings her heart out in the throes of wanting. But even as the song is charging up, as those guitar chords float through the air, the first lyrics LIV† sings are, "Lately I've been drowning in agony," which sounds more like a general mindstate rather than the ache to have the person you want at your side. 

In a very heartfelt Medium post describing her state of mind while writing and recording Flowers in the Void, LIV† writes about how her material changed amid the "pandemic race war happening outside [her] window." She opted to speak her truth and all that comes with it, which displays itself in spades on the EP. There's a difference between being topical and deeply feeling the things that are going on on the world, the way being a person influences a person's work. LIV† is the sort of artist who feels everything deeply, and it takes a lot of effort for people who feel everything deeply to express it in art. A lot of uprooted heartache, spiritual fatigue, and emotional vomit. But LIV† turns all the ugliness of life and the flaws she sees in herself into the beautifully arranged rose garden hidden in the vast expanse of artists sitting at virtual booths displaying their wares.

Related News & Reviews

Local Music Album Reviews

EP Review: LIV† Finds Herself and Seeks Forever on Black Girl Unbothered

The Tacoma native's recently released EP is a remarkable twenty minutes of singing and rapping, of sex and self-love. Martin Douglas investigates.

Read More
Local Music KEXP Premiere

LIV† Celebrates Her Own Intersectionality With New Song and Video for "Somethin (A nod to Freddie Joachim)”

Seattle songwriter sings and raps about the multitudes of her identity on the first single from her upcoming She's A Social Nomad EP

Read More
Black History Month Interviews

Focusing on the Amazing Things We've Done: Olivia Thomas – aka LIV† – on Black History Month

Seattle songwriter Olivia Thomas, who performs under the name LIV†, shares the importance of taking pride in the accomplishments of black people, encouraging black female artists, and feeling represented by artists like Alicia Keys and Lauryn Hill.

Read More