by Philip Moss
Part diary, part stream of conscious poetry exercise, and part self help guide – James Li’s second album as Liance is a living and breathing extension of his very being
‘I left this country so that I could write about it.’
James Li’s friends must be wary when in the company of the Brighton based musician. Such is the diary-alike aspect of his songwriting on his second album as Liance, The Painting Doesn’t Dry. But he is objective with his words. At no point is judgement cast – such is the purity of the voice in his work.
But for all his time spent looking outward, Li spends the majority of The Painting Doesn’t Dry looking back at himself. Reflecting. On Untitled 92 At The NPG, he sees himself and his anxieties in Cindy Sherman’s 1981 photograph, Untitled #92. And it’s from the reams and reams of stream of conscious poetry exercises, iPhone notes – singular moments that are trapped, and would be lost in time – that Li focuses his creative mind.
As a graduate of the Abbey Road Institute, the self-production is flawless – and bar a children’s choir, the whole toy box is thrown at The Painting Doesn’t Dry. But the right colours are mixed at the right moments. And like the works of Phil Elverum or William Doyle, the production is as important to the songs as the words, chords, or melodies. The Sufjan-alike banjo interludes of Inheritors of Life meet 2AM Lake Michigan field recordings – but it is all part of Li’s overriding vision: the sights, sounds, smells of his world are all embedded in this record’s fabric; the songs a living and breathing extension of his very being.
On the closing, twelve minute behemoth, TAMSY, the Hong Kong native’s philosophy is summarised in two lines: ’Everything adds up. Even small things add up in time.’ All the difficulties, anxieties, late night tinkering to this body of work is worth it. The Painting Doesn’t Dry is a soulful record for the soul.