In a recent interview, American-Dominican-Mexican rising star Ambar Lucid recalled one of the first times that she was faced by a detractor to her music. It’s a story that continues to stick with her, when as an early teen, she was told that “no one’s going to pay attention to your music if you sing in Spanish” and that, conversely, attempting to sing in English “would be worse… because then people really wouldn’t pay attention.”
It’s a laughable sentiment now given Spanish language music’s current surge of overdue recognition in the Anglo-speaking world, but a very real dilemma that Latinx artists have long previously faced. Rather than surrendering to the nay-sayer though, Lucid – now 19 and who has cited Kali Uchis and Chilean singer Mon Laferte as key influences – channelled the criticism and used it as ammunition. She tells Pitchfork:“I sing both [in English and Spanish] now… I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had been like, ‘You know what? Maybe this person is right. Maybe I should focus on something else rather than music.’ My life would be so sad.”
It’s ironic really, given that Lucid’s bilingualism is perhaps the most immediately beguiling aspect of her music. On ‘Garden of Lucid’, her debut full-length, the New Jersey-based artist continuously, seamlessly, and seemingly indiscriminately, switches between Spanish and English – often in the same verse, sometimes even during a single sentence. The collision allows full immersion in the engaging, commanding delivery and the mystical, dream-like atmospheres crafted on the record’s nine tracks.
Apt given its title, ‘Garden of Lucid’ is a record all about growth – both personally and creatively. While last year’s ‘Dreaming Lucid’ EP was a more folksy, stripped-back affair, this LP offers a fuller, more panoramic glimpse into Lucid’s wide-ranging creative world, spanning laid-back R&B (‘Questioning My Mind’), heavy-hearted soul (‘Fantasmas’), ethereal dream-pop (‘Cuando’) and the odd offering of peppy pop (‘Story To Tell’).
One of Lucid’s earliest tracks sought to offer advice to her younger self, but now she says she wants her music to serve as “healing” for others. Indeed, she may open the album with the lines “Welcome to the garden / Please don’t be disheartened / Once you perceive insincerity” (on ‘Garden’), but in her lyrics she couldn’t be more unflinchingly honest. ‘Questioning My Mind’ finds Lucid wracked with self-doubt, while in ‘Shades Of Blue’ she’s haunted by a past love. On ‘Universe’ though, Lucid is unmistakably defiant: “I belong to the universe / I don’t belong to anyone else.”
On closer ‘The Garden Song’, an acoustic number more reminiscent of her earlier EP, Lucid ends things on a contemplative note: “Of the greenery around us, I’ll admit, I’m not so sure / What if all the blooming isn’t truly what we know?” It’s a fitting conclusion for an album that plants fruitful seeds of an artist steadily shaping her sound but still not quite yet cementing her true voice.
Release date: April 10
Record label: Self-released