There’s a moment – a heart-stopping yet microscopic period of isolation – on Lucinda Chua’s song ‘Autumn Leaves Don’t Come’ when you become certain of her majesty. The way her voice lingers on the words “I’ve been living in the sky too long” acts as a meditative vow, one that seems to crush your chest with its intensity. Yet it’s just one moment on a record replete with highlights – a gorgeous, fascinating, enriching experience that underlines the arrival of a bold, groundbreaking talent.
The path to ‘YIAN’ – it means “swallow” in Chinese – stretches back to Lucinda Chua’s earliest memories. Raised in part using the Suzuki Method, her parents immersed her in music, until it became a natural part of her vocabulary. It’s a point worth dwelling on, due to the inherently communicative nature of the work on this, her debut album; cinematic pieces that also acts as avant-garde pop songs, she constantly reaches outwards. This isn’t music to impress academia, it’s art that is designed to communicate.
Refulgent, multi-coloured, and frequently dazzling, ‘YIAN’ seems to enrapture you from the first note. Each song is like wrapping your shoulders in a blanket – the breathless whispers of ‘Golden’, the titular ‘Echo’ tumbling like rainfall, the zero gravity keys of ‘I Promise’. It’s a record that revels in musicality, embracing the beauty of sound.
That isn’t to say this is mere aestheticism, however. Lucinda Chua also applies a wonderful sense of purpose to her work – the probing question “who are you?” on ‘I Promise’ feels central to her purpose, exploring diasporic connections, identity, mental health, and the requirement of learning. It’s so simple, but all the more profound for it.
Lucinda Yian’s central instrument is the cello, and songs like ‘Grief Piece’ make extraordinary use of the string section. Perhaps the pivot of the record as a whole, however, is the piano – also a stringed instrument in a fashion, it permeates the songwriting. You can practically hear her fingers reaching to the keys on closer ‘Something Other Than Years’.
A truly absorbing song cycle, ‘YIAN’ feels uniquely entwined with its author. Much more than autobiography, each piece feels like a mirror into Lucinda Yian’s inner realm – all its insecurity, yearning, and growth. An album that leaves you in a different environment than where you entered it, ‘YIAN’ will surely rank as one of 2023’s most impressive British debuts.
Words: Robin Murray