Deep Space: On Liv.e’s ‘FRANK’

Nitish Pahwa takes a look at 'FRANK,' the new record from Dallas singer Liv.e.
By    August 15, 2017

liv.e

Nitish Pahwa needs the funk.

FRANK opens with a short hiss, launching into a jittery pattern of cymbals and drums, stinging bass slaps, and bouncy guitar riffs. You can almost see the tape reels rolling in front of you as the instrumental loops play themselves out with occasional flutters and skips. A chorus of voices enter with harmonies out of the George Clinton songbook, blending in behind the slow, finger-snapping beat. It sounds more like a lost, dusty funk recording from the ’70s than an R&B song made in 2017.

This is the homemade, vintage feeling that pervades throughout FRANK, the debut EP from Dallas-based singer and producer Liv.e. FRANK is the latest release from Dolfin Records, a Texas indie label with a prominent underground roster that includes rapper Lord Byron, producer Ben Hixon, R&B singer Jon Bap, and former Stanley Clarke drummer Mike Mitchell.

Liv.e is one of the newer artists on the label, having previously collaborated with Hixon through a series of DJ parties in Dallas (“New Math Mondays”). Hixon and Bap have significant marks on this project, providing production, mixing, and background vocals. The beats they lend are often heavy on the drums, with short, hazy riffs that resemble Dilla-style syncopated loops.

What makes FRANK stand out is Liv.e’s distinctive songwriting style, based in old-school funk and soul, but combined with modern vocal mixing effects. She often doesn’t allow her voice to completely dominate her music, adding vocal layers and letting the harmonies meld with the production (especially on the final track, “unfold pt.1”). Her lyrics and melodies are simple and repetitive to mesmerizing effect—“clouds (interlude)” is a chant of “gon’ pass the gas.”

This is a sound she has experimented with for years. If you look through her SoundCloud page, you’ll find beats, freestyles, and demos that display the softened soulful tone that defines FRANK (there are also some fascinating remixes on her page, including a chopped and screwed treatment of Devin the Dude’s “Sticky Green” and a subdued makeover of Dead Prez’s “It’s Bigger Than Hip Hop”).

This style is what makes FRANK feel less like a set of seven full-fledged songs than a collection of faint, erratic musical impressions. None of the tracks are earworms, but the atmospheres created here captivate you and stick in your mind nonetheless. It all makes for a hypnotizing experience that commands your attention and cannot be fully appreciated in passing.