Liyou conceptualized Welfare as a version of Korean p’ansori, a minimalist style of folk opera built entirely around simple drum rhythms and expressive, meandering vocalizations. In p’ansori, because there are almost no other instruments, the performer leads the song using the cadence of her voice, each inflection helping to tell a little more of the story. Likewise, Welfare makes Liyou’s text-to-speech robot the unnerving narrator of the album, using little wrinkles in his delivery to uncover peculiar new emotional textures. On “I’m Going to Therapy,” after a nervous intro in which Liyou admits they didn’t tell their mother they were seeing a therapist, the automated voice comes out in utter silence, recounting a painful memory of the mother. from Liyou: “You said to me when I was six years old, ‘What kind of fucking boy cries because of X, Y and Z?’ Even coming from an AI voice, this “damn” conveys so much awful pathos and bitterness Shortly after, above a bed of what looks like a warped church organ floating in negative space, a human voice representing Liyou’s father enters the image overlaid with booming distortion, uttering, “You have to control it.” All of these moments play like dramatizations transcribed directly from Liyou’s life, presented here through the most raw and primitive music software available.
Each pass of Welfare subverts and develops the latter. Following the gorgeous piano ballad “Unnie” – where, in a shaky whisper, Liyou uses her real voice to struggle to define herself against Korean gender stereotypes – “Who You Feed” arrives like an unholy demon birth, briefly changing the The album’s POV en Liyou’s parents and the casting of Liyou himself as the real monster. “I’m getting bigger,” announces a childish digital voice over an unsettling collage of wet, breathing mouth noises. “And bigger,” he repeats, getting deeper each time. Just when it seems that the atmosphere can no longer be destabilizing, the voice gutturally proclaims: “I’m tired of you”; in an instant, Liyou takes a magnifying glass to the horrors of parenthood, looking at their own parents’ struggles to raise a child and treating them with the same bizarre sense of dread. By the time the album reaches its end with “Some Form of Kindness,” it feels like Liyou has learned to negotiate this complex familial love, accepting its embrace and acknowledging its limitations in the same humble breath.
After such dense and ostensibly deep work, Practice more diffuse sounds. Where Welfare plays like a four-part miniature play, PracticeSketches of are everywhere, like polaroids capturing ordinary moments of everyday life. Recorded over several weeks while Liyou was visiting family in Seattle and their grandmother was simultaneously suffering from a serious illness, Practice feels less like a grand statement of intent than the work of an artist piecing together his grief in the moment, turning brief conversations and flashes of memory over to uncover hidden meanings.