In 1953, Jackie Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier. She accomplished this daring coup in a Royal Canadian Air Force F-86 Sabrejet. Her latest successor, and the next woman in line to break a sound barrier, is a different brand of aviatrix altogether, but no less a queen of altitudes and attitudes unknown to others. Push your Wheaties aside; what you really need in your aural A.M. is a liquid breakfast, Audrey Nuna’s debut full-length.
Spunk. Verve. Vim. Moxie. Guts. Gumption. Zest. Elan. You’ll need to chew on those a minute for your formal aperitif to Audrey Nuna and a liquid breakfast. A New Jersey native, Nuna has swirled within and around a rare synchronicity, sonic and beyond, since her school years. Enrolled in the Clive Davis Institute at NYU, she later got signed to the very label Clive Davis founded (Arista). Nuna’s shim of a first single, “Soufflé”, early identified her (even in its official lyrics!) as a “universal donor” in the collective crockpot of creative culture. The fact that her first release revolves around the image of a recipe requiring a multitude of disparate, blended ingredients should escape none as the artistic announcement of Nuna it so symbolically is.
2019’s obstinate and opulent “Time” represents Nuna’s major-label debut, and her release of nimble, venomous material has been steady on ever since. She displays a killer deadpan lyrical delivery, always presented on a marble centaur face, half-vandal and half-sphinx. By her own admission, Audrey Nuna’s work is spored by duality and turns on an essential chassis of pantheistic passions. This Fitzgeraldian quality scintillates everywhere in her music, from her visual aesthetic to the turbid intermixture of classically trained vocal hologrammatics with the Gen-Z equivalent to Harlem Renaissance street poetry.
There is a whidding kind of ennui and fastidious boredom with the vaudeville of it all attenuating everything Nuna exudes as both woman and writer. Her song-speech is diabolical and demotic. Even the sublimated title of her propitious first record preens with a predacious double entendre: a liquid breakfast. It’s what both drunks and super-fit supermodels do; they just imbibe different potions for vastly different results and remarks. Remarkably, Nuna is doing more there than encouraging the listener to read the bifold brutality in both interpretations of the title, she is highlighting the fact that such synchronicity is everywhere, and that these poles aren’t remotely opposing – as none are – they are actually yin and yang, forever connected as two halves of a unified and necessary truth about what humans are and what humans do.
Trap. Rap. Arthouse. R&B. Pop. Indie. Soul. There’s your ear-hustled after-mint to a liquid breakfast. There is so much to find within the food metaphors of this record. For starts, Audrey Nuna’s sun-shy voice has a taste. It’s Eau de Nil meets calvados, and the words that come through those colors in her mouth emerge as philharmonic compounds of a class all their own. Imagine a magical birthday cake made entirely of pearlescent ice but that incongruously wore a halo of flamethrower candles that somehow didn’t melt the chilly confection so much as a drop. This is Audrey Nuna in a snack-sized synopsis.
Beyond her sustenance-giving voice, her next greatest gift is effusively reflecting the sacrament in the quotidian. Odd-ish street characters become demigods and saviors in Nuna’s nebula, as she seamlessly Magic-Bullets elements of all her cultures, Korean, American, and otherwise into a mulled mandamus utterly unique to her. Like an aberrant shuttlecock that uncannily touches down on both sides of the net at once and refuses to linger longer than a nanosecond on either, Audrey Nuna is her own laconic logarithm of paradoxes.
From its first fizz, a liquid breakfast makes clear that Nuna’s is a mind permanently on transmit, and one that won’t be enlisted to anyone’s interstitial conspiracies about what she is supposed to be or mean. Throughout the album, she shapeshifts at will. Sometimes she’s the rictus itself; other times she’s the rhythm that induces it in you, but she’s always game to swap sonic snakebites with us audience-kin.
Nuna is clearly familiar with the shitlords of the internet hive mind but, instead of being creatively cratered by it like so many, she raises a viperous halyard that she sewed herself and walks into the reindeer cyclones, shamelessly undressed and undaunted. The cooked conversations and canned responses of social media erasure-culture can’t seem to reach Nuna or her art in the aural aerie where her interior personality resides – and my, but the skies are saline blue and horizon-less at that altitude. Every pose becomes her own prefecture.
Audrey Nuna’s approach to swerving the securiform sensationalism of her time period calls to mind the English New Forest folk character, Brusher Mills – a fabled-but-real-life snake catcher who famously permitted his captured reptiles to free-range slither through his beard. Like Mr. B. Mills, Nuna conquers that which seems beyond wrangling (including within herself) by virtue of a practiced calm and a precise camouflage. The shallow, unthinking onlookers of this album may simply see chortling colors and long-simmering sparkles – and that still sells records, so bully for them. However, the thinkers who encounter Nuna’s work will see her most private splatter-painted solicitations and diamond-banded execrations across every note and pause of a liquid breakfast – and it is always a better breed of big-league when you can sell records by broadening minds while fearlessly telling your own truth.
A signature track like the trawling, osmotic “Comic Sans” (feat. Jack Harlow) showcases the molten salt reactors that are Nuna’s natural witticisms. Lyrics like “Apple in my throat/Serpent on the road” make you realize that even if she were to adoringly spell out something as innocuous as her lover’s name, a dream she had last night, or a wish for the future, it would all be spelled in ballast she’s disaffectedly tossing off a ship she long ago accepted was sinking – and here it is chyroned in an overused, routinely mocked font, no less. Brilliance!
“damn Right” is Nuna’s Missy Elliott meets Nelly Furtado moment. Here, Nuna makes it glassily apparent that she knows full well love is often a junk-rated mortgage at the best of times, and a Rumanian box scam every other day, making freewill helots of each and every one of us. However, she seems to sneer, it’s not going to stop her from chanting down owls at the pagan feast of Lammas, proudly committing every Cathar heresy in the book along the way, and remaining ever the tulip among the witches. A better celebration of modern culture’s thermoplastic bullshit than “Always late to the mass, show, tell, never ask/Powerade in the flask, wintertime in this counterfeit bag” I hereby challenge anyone to find!
“Get Luv” should get much for pairing a big-booty bass line with Nuna’s libinized, star-tall high notes. “Baby Blues” finds our demigoddess sounding as though she has love-Leylandii actively growing through her intercostals as she lyrically paints disinfectant graffiti across the larch-lap fencing of one of her life’s beautiful fakers.
Few and finely-drawn are the artists who demonstrate the kind of erudite elbowroom that makes them sound capable of talking as freely to you of the pedestrian intricacies of George Crabbe’s poetry as they could of the political complexities surrounding the giant burning heaps of cell phones in Guiyu. “Blossom” is one place you’ll realize Audrey Nuna is that sort of artist. Her rap flow alone is enough to signpost her hyperflexible intellect – all systolic rills, like little verbal Pop Rocks under her tongue that burst into something as simultaneously pragmatic and powerfully graceful as, say, surgical spirits and sitting whippets? All this while she sings of her heart’s own burnout and the recognition that humans are sometimes little more than machines with muscle memory.
Be sure not to miss the vibe-defining “Space”, first released as a single on April 2nd, 2021 on the artist’s 22nd birthday, as it promenades Nuna at her multichannel best. Lyrically she may be asking for headroom here, but visually this song is all about how she already occupies hers like a becalmed distress rocket. Astute viewers will note that the official video begins with the artist once again pitting herself against herself, this time in the form of “Audrey” versus “Nuna” on the video game screen of a bystanding gamer boy. The elfin enchantress then rocks a bronze Breathe-Right/Band-Aid across her perfect nose whilst Jesus-catwalking atop swimming pool water that will soon transmogrify into a monochromatic room done entirely in hospital-gown turquoise – the first “space” in question, and one that is beautifully, deliberately questionable.
In the next frame, her multi-tranched braids extend out from her head, across the floor, and out of the picture entirely, making her a gilded Medusa in a lonely McMansion. Follow that with an image of a towering ladder-skirt composed of old t-shirts and Nuna’s canted torso gesticulating from its pinnacle, like a half-bodied solo bride or a living Christmas star, and the jigsaw portrait of this song’s soul begins to click together: everything is endless winking riffs on what it means to take up space in the idiosyncratic ways that we all do, both alone and with those we like sharing space with.
Glorious sit-and-spin anthem “Top Again (feat. Saba)”, with its accompanying video directed to exquisiteness by Trey Lyons, depicts our songstress in variant stances of silver, from a cellophane-like blanket and cape to skiwear that seems suitable for a helideck piloted by Herne the Hunter. Pink cereal, 90s mini-claw hair clips, and glittering g-thang grills are all involved – and the effect is stunning. Nuna is both the commandant and the cultivar in her own careworn landscape, and she has no problem letting haters and betrayers know where to stick it. “Long Year” closes out a liquid breakfast with a kind of Fernet-flavored, lonely animal panic that can capsize the highest of weekends. It may have been since Lily Allen’s, or even Tori Amos’, first records that unpasteurized young womanhood has been recorded with such blistering breviloquence.
When the world thinks of Asian women, it should be next to remembrances of those like Chien-Shiung Wu, the “First Lady of Physics,” a Chinese-American dame who helped disprove the law of conservation of parity and became the first female president of the American Physical Society. It should be with smiling, respectful nods to Patsy Mink, the Japanese-American dynamo that became the first woman of color ever in the United States Congress. In music history alone, you can trace a straight line from the moment Kurt Cobain famously said that the only band that ever made him “tear his hair and scream” was Japanese rock dolls Shonen Knife to the complete Western takeover of Korea’s own Blackpink, on through to the rise this past year of Filipino-born Beabadoobee’s introspective murmurings. The reasons we’ve all been collectively thinking about Asian women this year are unspeakably tragic, but the outcomes don’t have to be, and a liquid breakfast offers a world of alternative takes on many such matters at hand.
you would like an immediate extradition treaty from every harmful stereotype or
dismissive image ever put forth in response to the coulombic power of Asian
women and a new measuring tool for innate fused-background cool, Audrey Nuna
has some bespoke calipers like you’ve never seen. The time for her contribution
to the stratospheric list of Asian female accomplishments couldn’t be riper.
She began her public orbit by tellingly asking for “time,” and then “space.”
Now possessed of both, plus a stage she built for herself, she has turned those
basic human rights into something as stare-worthy as fiber optic yaks ambling
along your local highway overpass. Somewhere across the rainbow bridge, Jackie
Cochran must surely be saluting the breaking of this latest sound barrier, and
everyone should eagerly watch the supersonic sister in charge of the flywheel
this time around. She’s an urban magma cat with two nations’ worth of pop
culture fluency at her claw tips, she’s had a damn good breakfast, and she’s
just getting started.