Album Review: LI-SA-X WILL
Every year, hordes of teenagers get into heavy music and pick up their first instruments. They sit in their rooms practicing diligently, gradually achieving a degree of competence before heading out into the world and attempting to pursue music as a potential career path. Many of them take their first steps by recording performance videos and posting them online, praying that the viral content gods will catapult them into the history books overnight.
Half a decade ago, that dream came true for Li-sa-X—at the age of eight. Her cover of the Racer X classic “Scarified” has notched up over 5.3 million YouTube views at the time of writing, attracting praise from across the world and even an apprenticeship with Paul Gilbert. Since 2014, one of the most respected guitar teachers of all time has been personally mentoring one of the internet’s favorite young talents, and the results have naturally been outstanding.
The vast majority of adult guitarists would struggle to conquer tunes like Guthrie Govan’s “Rhode Island Shred”, Polyphia’s “Aviator”, and Dream Theater’s “Lost Not Forgotten”. Li-sa-X, on the other hand, ripped through them all shortly after turning 10, and millions of YouTube users have witnessed the evidence. Try to watch the videos in question without smiling, grinning, or laughing in disbelief, and you will fail.
Li-sa-X’s winning streak has never been broken, and that situation will not change any time soon. Her videos remain hugely popular; notable talents like Intervals, Polyphia, and Kiko Loureiro have lined up to play with her; and Japanese major label Sony released Li-sa-X’s Serendipity EP in March last year. A five-song set comprising four covers and original tune “Serendipity”, that particular release showed just how far the pre-teen virtuoso had progressed in just a few years.
Under Paul Gilbert’s tutelage, Li-sa-X has developed into a fully rounded musician whose love of playing constantly shines through in everything she does. You can see it when she grins after pulling off a tricky lick on camera, and you can hear it whenever she plays a note. Listening deeper, you can also tell just how determined Li-sa-X is to conquer all the challenges that lie before her – and every step she takes represents a trial of some kind.
When it came time to make her debut album WILL, Li-sa-X was forced to confront a particularly daunting challenge. Instead of learning new covers, she found herself writing more original pieces in response to overwhelming demand. In her own words, “Writing original tunes was very difficult. Things did not proceed as smoothly as I had wanted to; there were times I almost broke off my heart.”
Again, bear in mind that plenty of adult musicians confront this challenge every day, and many of them decide to hang up their instruments before they ever finish their work. WILL’s title highlights the mental fortitude that helped Li-sa-X’s dream come true. The album itself is a cool piece of art, a career landmark that bodes even more positively for Li-sa-X’s future than everything she has accomplished up to this point.
WILL is a genuinely fun and enthralling listen. Opener “Little Wings” sounds like an anime theme broken up by immense riff breaks and incredible shredding from both Li-sa-X and Chinese prodigy YOYO; “Pale Pink Monster” reminds me of melodic maestros Polyphia, and “P.R.O.” opens with insane tapping before dropping into super-heavy grooves. Beyond that epic opening trio, however, Li-sa-X reveals her most important improvement.
On “Fluctuation”, Li-sa-X’s guitar duets with sublime piano, gracefully gliding through a series of mature and emotional melodies that showcase her massively upgraded sense of feel. After she softens up again in a rockier context on “Daisy”, nobody could deny that Li-sa-X has all the makings of a future guitar legend. Not just a viral sensation, but a star worthy of the status afforded to those she idolizes.
Plenty of hard work lies ahead, but it’s merely a matter of time before Li-sa-X levels up again. She’s not just “good for a kid” or “good for a girl”. She’s awesome. End of story.