Lucinda Chua : YIAN Album Review

The word yian, or yàn (燕), refers to a swallow, a migratory harbinger of spring that in Chinese culture often appears in maobi paintings, children’s songs, girls’ names and superstitions. On their largely self-produced debut full-length, YIANLucinda Chua is both the swallow, the bird in flight, looking for a home, and the swallowed, a body that succumbs to something bigger than itself.

The London-based cellist and producer has spent years excavating the delicate innards of melancholy and longing. The previous EP of him, 2019 antidotes 1 and 2021 antidotes 2he captured tender vignettes of mood swings and moments in time. YIAN, by comparison, is outward-expanding, offering not just vignettes but also stories, often rooted in the artist’s own experiences as a child of the Chinese diaspora. Born to a Chinese-Malaysian father and a white British mother, Chua seeks both a relationship with her roots and release from her inherited trauma. It follows that much of the album is devoted to navigating and redefining her relationship with confusing spaces in between.

Bewitching these spaces is the classic diasporic question of the home. In the elegiac “The Autumn Leaves Are Not Coming”, crisscrossed strings of crystal played its ponticello like flocks of birds. Chua’s voice thickens like a rope and she throws it out, as if she were searching for an anchor. Here, as throughout the album, Chua creates landscapes out of the hollow spaces within her. Each track becomes her own kind of home, or at least a safe haven. The orchestral “Meditations on a Place” evokes both the impressionistic warmth of Ravel and the icy vistas of Sibelius. A low hum pulses softly; the low strings swell; and the tremolo of the violins shines like light on the water. Meanwhile, “Grief Piece” drifts across the lonely expanses of her self-titled. The digital distortion interferes with the matrix like pain short-circuiting the brain.

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During YIAN, Chua brings together the threads that unite the home, history and its relationship with the body. Lead single “Echo” is a quiet declaration of independence from ancestral trauma. On the single cover, she extends her hand in the form of a lánhuāzhǐ (兰花指), a major hand gesture in traditional Chinese dance, based on the lánhuā (兰花), or orchid. However, the way she holds him—wrist slightly bent, head and neck straight—departs from tradition. In healing his wounds, Chua finds the need both to draw those boundaries and to reach out to others. On “You”, the aquatic choruses blossom and give way to a vibrant cello line. Chua’s voice arches like a bridge, seeking connection to a relationship distant by time and past circumstances: “I want you to know/ That all your kindness/ It’s all my kindness./ I hope you find this.” The suggestion of a shared psychic space is also repeated in “Do you know, do you know?” As a train-like whistle blows through a veil of synth reverb, the artist intones: “Help me […] I don’t want to hurt you/ It’s hurting me too.” The dissolving of personal boundaries hints at the possibility of new growth, even if a clear resolution is out of reach.

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