LLVX’s "Eyes" is an intense exploration of identity

by Annika Eske

LLVX’s "Eyes" is an intense exploration of identity

With their sophomore release Eyes, LLVX takes a deeper dive into musical exploration and personal struggle. The New York/Boston-based artist has already demonstrated their music production prowess in the Ball EP, but Eyes, released September 24, takes LLVX’s discography to an entirely new standard. The album is painstakingly thought out, and though best enjoyed in order, the album is also stunning when broken down into its component tracks. Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of Eyes is how wonderfully exhausting it is. The album takes the listener on a journey that is unexpected, harrowing, and yet ultimately empowering. The album specifically tackles themes related to the struggle of trans people, yet Eyes is crafted in such a way that anyone who listens feels compassion for the album’s protagonist.

The album starts with the nearly obnoxious sounds of a gender reveal party. However, the spoken words, “She’s a boy!” immediately start the album off with a sense of internal conflict and contradiction. Eyes ultimately juxtaposes crushing sadness with uninhibited confidence. The melancholy side of the album is most clear in “Real Girl,” “Hey,” and “Blades of Ivory.” The spoken monologue of “Real Girl” is self-righteous and entirely apathetic, yet it is also something a trans person could realistically encounter. The digital filter on the words adds another layer of iciness. The song portrays exclusion and the denial of a queer person’s identity, even calling the protagonist “someone who doesn’t even know themselves,” as if this is something unusual or shameful in the first place. Conversely, “Hey” is overwhelmingly sad in a minimalistic manner. Reverberating piano chords and fluttering vocals give this song a raw feeling and demonstrate that, even with the bare minimum, LLVX can evoke strong emotions. Finally, “Blades of Ivory,” featuring the voice of Anabelle Accetta-Beman, provides an ambient pause with a haunting monologue that utilizes dramatic imagery and dark wording. In all of these more sorrowful tracks, listeners get the feeling that something fragile is about to shatter under pressure.

However, interlaced with this fragility are songs that boast aggressive confidence. This tone is most prominent in songs like “Can You” and “You Thought That It Was Over.” “Can You” employs a warrior-type drumbeat that fills in with a cymbal crash just before one minute in. In general, the percussion in “Can You” melds perfectly with the melody and uses screechy synths to top it off. The song builds with the repetition of the lyric “Can you see?” and ultimately questions why people think they can exert control over others. Later, “You Thought That It Was Over” sees LLVX’s confidence rise again. The percussion here is chaotic and tinny sounding, and the clipped, echoing vocals bring a dramatic sense of anticipation. The song never pauses and never quiets down. Rather, it simply continues gaining force.

However, Eyes also sees LLVX put a more subtle form of confidence on display. “Fix,” for example, takes on a much calmer tone. It features smoky vocals from LLVX that often, very deliberately, quiver and flutter. This contrasts well with the smooth vocals of hyphenviii. Still, with its bass line, high hats, and murmured vocals, “Fix” maintains an aura of confidence. The song gradually makes its way from a furtive, intimate sound to a more free and airy sound. Both styles are lovely, but the metamorphosis of one into the other makes “Fix” even more notable. The song asks “Let me see you, I’ll let you see me” and commands, “Fix your eyes on me,” adding further to the unapologetic tone. “Waste Mine” is similarly confident, but has its own sweet and earthy sound due to its keyboard loop and percussion. Thanks to LLVX’s whispered vocals and a build-up of synths, “Waste Mine” progresses farther and farther into a beautiful and emotional abstraction. Also checking off the box of quiet confidence is the song “Cold.” The vocals initially feel icy, as the title would suggest, but slowly evolve into the chorus of sorts, “Can you feel it burning up?” Still, the percussion comes front and center. It is a mixture of what sounds like clinking coins, a rattle, and a stuttering lower percussion part. Not to mention, LLVX also uses “Ha ha ha” vocals as a sort of percussion. The concluding saxophone solo by Nathan Tang adds another layer of unanticipated warmth and flavor to the song.

The final track, “Wash,” successfully incorporates both the sadness and quiet power seen throughout the rest of the album, but also stands on its own. The track feels like a gentle release after the emotionally exhausting journey that is Eyes. The guitar part here is beautiful and unexpected, but LLVX incorporates it seamlessly. The harmonies here are fitting to the title, and the progression of the melody is beautiful. While the lyrics are extremely sad – “Feel the sky turn gray, wash my voice away” – they also feel somewhat cleansing and peaceful. The vocals, featuring Joyce M. Zheng, have a clear, refreshing sound. The ending feels like a literal wash of nearly abstract vocals, guitar, and synths. If the album starts with an angry red, it ends with a peaceful snow-white. Finally, the last few seconds of the album feature something of a circular ending. Just as the listener recognizes the sounds of a gender reveal party from the beginning of Eyes, it also becomes clear that the monologue has changed to “She’s a girl!” This tiny change suggests a shift towards the resolution of inner conflict. It seems to indicate the protagonist’s approach to self-acceptance and empowerment.

In general, Eyes is a treasure trove of overwhelming emotions and creative sounds. The album has strong dynamics wherein the songs lift and then pummel the listener, only to lift them back up again. There are no boring moments in LLVX’s album – Eyes is a touching chapter in what is sure to be a thrilling story.