Pop music has been producing a lot of intriguing crossover content in the last year or so, but if you’re like me and have been missing puritan pop’s compositional simplicity and sonic virtuosity, Jeffrey Li is the artist you need to be listening to this August. Li, a 15 year old from Toronto, is dropping his debut single “Anniversary” this summer, and while it has some structural commonalities with genre staples in 2020, it has the finishing of a truly one of a kind piece of material. With every word this young man sings to us, he imparts a pummeling emotionality that finds its way into the fabric of the instrumental melodies, and for an artist who hasn’t finished high school yet, that’s really something indeed.
Though not specifically hook-oriented, the melody in this track is sewn into the rhythm of the percussion as to make the groove as emotive as any of the harmonies are. This is a little more complex than in it needed to be for the lyrical construct Li is employing in “Anniversary,” but I would contend at the same time that he doesn’t appear to be overextending himself in his performance in any capacity. He’s cool, calm and collected throughout the song, and by the time we wind towards its conclusion, it’s pretty clear that there’s only one undisputed star under the spotlight here. It might not be the most barebones indie pop single you hear this summer, but that’s why I find it so devilishly addictive.
As far as production quality goes, “Anniversary” is no lightweight at all whatsoever. This is a sterling document and a fine example of a little going a long way on the mixer. There are details galore beneath the harmony – little bits of a keyboard, a subtle electric string texture, even a touch of percussive reverberation – and they’re all being made available to us at a relatively moderate volume. I don’t usually think varnish makes much of a difference in a rookie pop single, but this is an instance in which it’s not only making a positive impact on the narrative but actually being used properly. Some of Li’s competition could learn a thing or two here, and I don’t think I’m the only critic who would say as much.
Making a debut successful is one of the hardest challenge that any musician – pop, rock or otherwise – will ever have to face, but in “Anniversary,” Canada’s own Jeffrey Li makes it sound pretty simple. Without provocation, he unleashes a hurricane of a harmony and invites us along for the wild ride that ensues, and even if he’s got a couple of rough edges in his approach (all of which he can smooth out in less than a couple of years if he remains dedicated), I would ask any of my own peers in journalism to think of anyone producing this strong of a first look this season. He’s got some serious chops, and I’m eager to see how he uses them next.
by Bethany Page