Like a long, lost classic by The Byrds, dancing guitars spiral around Brighton based musician, James Joshua Li’s voice on his first outing as Liance since 2018. Vocally, Li’s soft falsetto recalls Sufjan Stevens – while lyrically The Decameron is packed with vivid imagery – of light and dark – on this beautiful return.
To mark the comeback, we caught up with Li to discuss current listening habits. These are his Five Right Now picks:
Snow is Falling in Manhattan – Purple Mountains
I first listened to Silver Jews at college and was taken aback by David Berman’s ability to economise language and bleak truths into memorable one-liners. I was so excited by his return in the form of Purple Mountains. It felt like a triumphant retaking of the mantle after a decade of intense struggle, so his death affected me tremendously. Berman said that he meant Snow is Falling… as an invitation to be taken care of by his songs. It’s how I’ll remember him now, especially during this uncertain junction in time.
Sunday Afternoon – free cake for every creature
I first saw Free Cake for Every Creature at this packed house show in Grand Rapids. Katie Bennett was wearing a long Victorian prairie dress and hammering away on her electric guitar to a completely packed living room. I was lucky enough to catch them in Brighton last year on their final European tour.
I admire Bennett’s ability to write directly using simple arrangements and lyrics to powerful effect. It proves that you don’t need a lot of instrumentation to make a song moving as long as its heart and mood is intact. Bennett has also recorded with Hello Shark, who is one of my favourite songwriters and uses a similar approach to his own music.
“body” – Gia Margaret
There’s Always Glimmer is one of my favourite albums released in the last couple of years. Margaret’s songs have a deep emotional complexity that you just want to unspool, this sort of quiet balancing act between comfort and violence. “body” is from her upcoming ambient album. It reminds me of the old science documentaries the teacher would wheel into the classroom, and how you’d drift off into daydreamed contentment once they turned off the lights.
Waiting for You – Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds
I just spent a year commuting up to London from Brighton for a music engineering course at Abbey Road Institute, so about three hours of travel a day. I was experiencing a lot of grief at that time. To cope, I’d listen to Ghosteen on the evening return journey and sink into its weightless parallel universe. Ghosteen remains one of the most gorgeous records I’ve ever heard. Listening to it is like revisiting your early childhood, but with the knowledge and grief of an adult.
Gnarbone – Penelope Isles
Jack and Lilly, who are siblings and make music as Penelope Isles, are two lovely friends I made here in Brighton. When they play Gnarbone, it’s with so much energy and conviction that you can feel it vibrate in your bones. While they’re usually on tour for most of the year, I have fantastic memories with them that feel tied to my love for this city.
One event was a thank you show at the sea cliffs here. They’d just come back from tour and released their album, so all their friends and collaborators were invited to watch a special set and eat free chilli at a cafe overlooking the English Channel at sunset. So many great people from different circles gathered that night. Ordinary moments like this, like when community comes together to celebrate something beautiful, feel truly magical. When put together they create a meaningful life.
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