“Feeling obsolete in the twenty-first century” sings James Li, tapping into the millennial ennui that surrounds us all. The frontman of the Grand Rapids-based band Liance (along with fellow Calvin students Johnson Cochran and Tyler Ligon), this is just one of the many moments of reflection the band’s tackles on its first full album Bronze Age of the Nineties. In many ways, Bronze Age is a poetic realization of what was laid out before in Liance’s previous EP, Visions of Victoria. For this latest release, Liance brings a more assured sound and visceral lyrics to achieve a sense of authenticity that rings true.
This newest batch of songs shows Liance’s maturity as an artist, both musically and lyrically. The production is fuller, with songs longer and more intricate. Liance lessens up on its electro-folk roots, moving instead towards a more varied instrumentation. While a touch of auto tune is still found here and there, Liance also subtly adds more instruments like piano and xylophone towards the mix to flesh out the songs. Instead of merely relying on authentic intent to carry a sparse song as with Liance’s previous EP, the band instead undergirds its crushing lyricism with these stronger musical compositions. The propulsive guitar and bass combination on “I Watched the News Today, ISIS Burned a Man to Death in a Cage” is one such example, fortifying Li’s reflections on the public, private, and personal aspects of the deaths of others.
This song, along with others like “Pine Rest” and “Oyster Boys”, also illustrates the improvements to Liance’s vocal performances. The vocals have more bounce and musicality to them that adds to their lyrical draw. Instead of stretching out words like in Visions of Victoria, Bronze Age has Li experimenting with rhythm and spouting a torrent of lyrics. Opting for specific yet largely decontextualized details, Li describes situations specific to his own life.
“Woke up disappointed that I woke up at all” is the devastating line that begins “Pine Rest,” one of the strongest tracks of the album. (For those familiar with the Grand Rapids area, this song, like the rest, comes with a displaced sense of nostalgia for the places described, as well as the sense of this nostalgia destroyed by trauma.) These lyrics are not just strong because of the real things Li has experienced, but because they are poetically crafted as well. These changes towards a poetic realism also strengthen the album, its more detailed and intricate language largely erasing mystification in its subject matter.
Listening to Liance’s work can often feel intrusive, like hearing secrets and scars of the past that one normally keeps close to the chest. But Bronze Age eschews vagueness, preferring tangible details to better illustrate personal reflection. Li wonderfully speaks towards those intangible moments of beauty in life, such as hushed moments between friends, the late night highs of art, and the cold loneliness of empty homes. He also speaks to the fragility of life as well, singing how “we choose who we love but we have no choice over death or disease” in the opening track “Meg.” This expansive exploration of Li’s own psyche shows the profundity of our own lives, should we choose to reflect upon them.
Liance’s honestly is what makes this album bristle with life. This is of course ironic to say, considering much of the album is focused on death and despair. But it also contemplates the messiness of love. Li sings:
Androgynous Superman; I only want to be yours
Fear’s your only love language, pepper spray, and the leaves of Fall
My only sacred memories of you aren’t so sacred at all
“Love’s not infatuation, it left me a mess on the floor” Li recounts, but sings too that “I have done bad things and called it love.” These reflections confirm the intricacies of life, ultimately illustrating the album’s inner strength: that maturity is an act of becoming, often propelled by experiences of both trauma and joy. The best we can do is reflect on our own lives, and brace for the future with the wisdom of others in hand.
Bronze Age of the Nighties will be out November 13. Liance’s EP and singles are free on Bandcamp. http://liance.bandcamp.com