Ambar Lucid is 19, but she’s already lived through her father’s deportation, the naysayer who told her no one would listen to her music if it was in Spanish, and the move to Los Angeles to pursue that music anyway. Garden of Lucid, her defiant debut album, exudes confidence and experience. Her style of R&B is mystical and moody, a supernatural dream for anyone seeking to better understand the world and their place in it. It all builds to an image of a young woman who understands who she is and wants everyone else to understand, too.
Because it’s tricky being a teenage girl. You’re either too much like a woman or too much like a child, always making other people uncomfortable or feeling uncomfortable yourself. As a teen in charge of her own art, Lucid shares her life without shame. “I belong to the universe/I don’t belong to anyone else,” she sings on “Universe,” a glittery, groovy song with a bassline like Tame Impala for girls who own tarot cards. Such trite lyrical moments serve as reminders that Lucid is a new adult—or put differently, they’re testaments to her earnestness. On “Story to Tell,” she sings plainly, “My art was awkward for you to tell,” and then, “Farewell.”
On “Garden,” she adopts the same kind of droopy guitar loop you might hear in emo rap, with an indulgent, sinister vocal delivery to match. “Welcome to the garden,” Lucid sings, like she’s the ringleader of a weird dreamland circus. But then she says something unexpectedly sympathetic: “Please don’t be disheartened/Once you perceive insincerity,” dipping in and out of Spanish from there. Her voice is decadent, forming crystalline falsettos on “Cuando” and cutting through piano on “Shades of Blue.” She goes low and high, a vocal acrobat.
It’s easy to hear the imprint of Odd Future associates like Kali Uchis and Steve Lacy on this album; Lucid has named both as influences. She shares their sense of darkness, lavishing in wonky, washed-out guitar, sticky basslines, and fuzzy background vocals. It’s alternative R&B with a wink, something always left a little strange. Yet Lucid’s lush, sweeping vocal performances and the assertive, spiritual self-compassion in her lyrics stand out from the rest of Odd Future’s disciples. She translates the anxious beauty of an artist like Lil Peep into a focused pain. You don’t often hear Spanish in the lyrics of an American artist making this sort of grungy R&B, which reaffirms that Lucid is no one’s token anything.
For a generation of immigrants’ children, hearing Lucid, a 19-year-old girl with a Dominican mother and Mexican father, so easily integrate her culture with her musical identity feels like a personal homecoming. When I was younger, I never knew exactly how I felt about my own immigrant parents. I envied other neighborhood kids, the ones whose families were all-white, all-American, and uncomplicated. High school friends told me that I was white, even though my dad was from Bangladesh. Eventually, I stopped protesting—sure, I was white, too. Not until I was older did I realize how much denying my background severed me from my identity.
On Garden of Lucid, the multifaceted teenage girl has control of her own narrative. Lucid is a burgeoning Latinx American pop star; her music is strange and luminous, sometimes in English and sometimes in Spanish, and almost always about herself. It tells everyone that immigrant kids are complicated and idiosyncratic, never conforming to the image that others (our parents, our neighbors) want to project on us. There’s no attempt to pander, to sing the kind of story about the tragedy or triumph of immigration that white Americans love to hear. Everyone is always telling teenagers what to do, but Lucid isn’t looking for help. She’s just waiting for everyone else to catch up.