Jeffrey Li’s debut single “Anniversary”

Although it’s quite subtle in style and only implied at the onset of the track, the beat in Jeffrey Li’s debut single “Anniversary” is an agent of evocation without question. Li’s words, as spellbinding as they are, get such an immaculate finish from their rhythm here that it’s hard to picture it being the same song with a different underlying groove, and the same can be said for its gilded melodic elements as well. “Anniversary” has a lot of personality, and from the looks of its compositional strengths, so does the singer who brings it to our focus this month. 

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The influences Li calls his own are on full display in this single, but they’re cohesively held together in the construction of the hook and never become obvious to the degree of making the music sound recycled. There’s actually a stiff hybrid cocktail of R&B and pop playing a big role in making the chorus as seductive as it is, but I really appreciate how well this young man is able to balance that hybridity with a tried and true approach to lyrical catharsis. He wants to be experimental, that much is clear, but he’s avoiding the temptation to act too liberally in this setting. 

This bassline is exceptionally understated, even more so than the drums are in the master mix, and it introduces an ominous to the backend that Jeffrey Li never has any issues navigating with his command of the verses. His well-rehearsed lines come to us fluidly without any suggestion of splicing in the post-production process, and whether he recorded the entire track in one sitting or not, it’s got the look and feel of a live piece of material just the same. Who knows when we’ll have the chance to see him on stage, but until then, this is a good preview for sure. 

I love a physicality-focused mix as much as the next person, but the production stylization of “Anniversary,” from a big picture perspective, is actually pretty streamlined and has more in common with minimalist trends than the postmodern pop movement. Everyone in the Toronto underground seems to be fascinated by cerebral songwriting lately, but the atmospheric elements are mostly left on the sidelines for this ballad. Li is to the point with his melodies here, and even if that doesn’t satisfy the artsier pop fans among us, it should be enough to attract an audience somewhere on the dial this summer. 

Elegantly-produced and mildly conceptual to the extent of indicating a bright future ahead, “Anniversary” is a must-listen for anyone who enjoys smart songwriting and youthful pop energy. Jeffrey Li is coming into the international spotlight at one of the most difficult times in the history of pop music in terms of trying to make a name for yourself – his competitors came to play, and in order to remain relevant, he’ll need to take full advantage over any momentum that this first offering creates for his brand. He’s on my radar, and with his talent, he’ll be on yours sooner than later. 

Michael Rand

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