This latest full-length from Lucy Liyou is described as a "rumination on the double-sidedness of trauma and love." The title is a Korean idiom with multiple meanings ("could mean anything from fanciful daydreams to nightmarish terrors") and was chosen very deliberately, as Liyou is fascinated by what our dream lives say about us and our subconscious desires. Interestingly, Dog Dreams is billed as only Liyou's second album (she is quite a prolific artist), but apparently everything other than 2020's Welfare is considered either an EP or a collaboration. In some ways, Dog Dreams feels like a logical evolution from that debut, but I was surprised to find that Liyou moved away from her text-to-speech narratives, as I previously thought that element was absolutely central to her aesthetic. In their place, however, are elusive Robert Ashley-esque dialogues of murmuring voices hovering at the edge of intelligibility. While I expected to miss the playfully dark humor of those robotic voices quite a lot (I found them very endearing), the newly tender and human voices fit the dreamlike beauty of Dog Dreams' three sound collages quite nicely.
Unsurprisingly, Dog Dreams has its roots in Liyou's own recurring dreams, but it is also a dialogue of sorts with co-producer Nick Zanca, as the two artists first worked on the album separately before convening in Zanca's studio to shape the final version. The opening title piece provides a fairly representative introduction to the album, as a melange of faint pops, hisses, and crackles slowly blossoms into a pleasantly flickering and psychotropic collage of tender piano melodies, water sounds, and sensuously hushed vocals. Interestingly, the aforementioned melange of strange sounds came from recordings of saliva (albeit "dilated and rendered unfamiliar through Zanca's adroit mixing"), which is definitely not something that I would have guessed on my own. Characteristically, the vocals are the best part of the piece, as Liyou and Zanca's voices enigmatically mingle, overlap, and harmonize in a fractured, shapeshifting dialogue. Uncharacteristically, however, "Dog Dreams" transforms into something resembling Xiu Xiu's Jaime Stewart interpreting a tender R&B-tinged ballad from a Disney soundtrack. While I certainly did not see that curveball coming, it is very on-brand for Liyou, as she has always been an inventive magpie keen to assimilate any and all compelling sounds and ideas that bleed into her life.
The shorter second piece ("April in Paris") is the album's strongest, as Liyou blends together an abstract rendition of a "Vernon Duke jazz standard" with a narrative reflection on sexual assault. Despite the heavy subject matter, it is an absolutely gorgeous piece that feels like a series of evocative dissolving mirages that run the gamut from "sultry jazz fantasia" to "churning nightmare." It may very well be my favorite piece that Liyou has ever recorded, but "Fold The Horse" ends the album with another gem, elegantly blurring the lines between "field recordings from a factory inside a snow globe" and "hypnosis session in the middle of an animated Disney forest full of cheerfully chirping birds." Curiously, It climaxes with yet another R&B-inspired passage, which predictably wrong-footed me yet again. Those "bursting into song" moments tend to feel a bit out of place to me, which is my one caveat with this album, but the unusual seesawing between pop and surreal abstraction makes for compelling art regardless (dreams fundamentally follow their own logic, after all). In any case, this is an absolutely beautiful and unique album, as Liyou and Zanca crafted quite a sensuous, bittersweet, and immersive channeling of Liyou's swirling subconscious. Moreover, there is enough mystery lurking in these diaristic dreamscapes to make me want to revisit them again and again to reveal fresh details and new shades of meaning. To paraphrase one of the album's central samples ("the outer person isn't necessarily always the inner person"), the immediately graspable elements of Dog Dreams are merely an entry point to its fathomless depths.