Album Review: St. Lucia’s When the Night

St. Lucia

When the Night

Neon Gold Records/Columbia Records

Release Date: October 8, 2013

Track Listing

  1. The Night Comes Again
  2. The Way You Remember Me
  3. Elevate
  4. Wait for Love
  5. All Eyes On You
  6. Closer Than This
  7. Call Me Up
  8. We Got It Wrong
  9. September
  10. Too Close
  11. When the Night

Personnel – live

Jean-Phillip Grobler

Patricia Beranek

Nick Brown

Ross Clark

Nick Paul

Originally from Johannesburg, South Africa, Jean-Phillip Grobler attended the renowned Drakensburg Boys Choir School, and as a student performing in the choir, he toured across Europe, Japan, Australia, US, and several other countries. When the choir wasn’t on tour, they lived in a remote enclave in the South African mountains learning a wide variety of music including minimalist opera, the work of Bach and strangely enough, Celine Dion. As a teenager, Grobler had started to feel as though he had enough of classical music and had something of a musical epiphany when he had discovered the direct emotionality of pop music. Naturally, wanting more from his creative life, Jean-Phillip Grobler left South Africa and spent three years studying in Liverpool. But eventually he found himself in Brooklyn – where he was aiming to make it big like countless artists.

   When Grobler first arrived in Brooklyn three years ago, he had started an unsuccessful rock-based project but somehow he almost always found himself turning towards the music he listened to and adored as a child – 80s synth pop and African music. Grobler returned to the studio with a new purpose and he wrote, produced and played almost every instrument on a bunch of new tracks, under the moniker St. Lucia. With those tracks under his belt, Grobler, as St. Lucia (with a backing band, of course) started playing tons of shows across town, quickly gaining the attention of the blogosphere locally. But it was at the 2011 CMJ Festival, Grobler and company gained national attention – their live sets were universally praised as being among the best of that year’s festival by both national and local blogs; and more importantly, the band won the attention of Columbia Records who immediately signed him, and then released his self-titled debut EP and the September EP last year (both of which landed on this site’s honorary mentions list).

   Earlier this year, Grobler lent his production duties to local indie electro pop sensation Haerts’ debut ep, Hemiplegia and his full-length debut effort When the Night saw its much-anticipated release last month. And the album further cements Grobler’s growing reputation for a winningly slick production style. We’re talking about a sound that manages to be airy while possessing subtly dense layers just below its surface with anthemic, infectious hooks and plaintive, earnest vocals – earnest to the point of being slightly melodramatic, which fits material that deals with love gained, love lost and other archetypical pop themes. Certainly without a doubt, the material owes a great deal to the 80s synth pop that influenced its creator, and will sound warmly familiar to children of the 80s like yours truly. Honestly, that’s not a bad thing when it’s done so fucking well. However, my dear reader, pay close attention – there are subtle flourishes of African percussion throughout the mix, and they sound like a buoy chiming through the fog.

   Interestingly, the album is comprised of our previously released tracks, “All Eyes on You,” “Closer Than This,” and “We Got It Wrong” off the self-titled EP and EP title track “September” off September, and seven new tracks. “Elevate,” the first single and video from the new album is a shimmering gem of song, with an infectious pop hook and a ridiculously funky bass line (reminiscent of Phil Collins’ “Sussudio”) that burrows very deeply into your ears. The track manages to feel larger-than-life, yet intimate and direct. However, the bridge is a marvel to listen to, thanks to its slick production values – it includes bursts of horns, punctuated by handclaps that give the song an ebullient, lighthearted joy. The track has quickly landed on a short list of best singles this year. “Wait for Love” has a tropical-sounding feel but with a melody that somehow reminds me quite a bit of Culture Club before ending with some acoustic guitar. “Call Me Up” has some sweet harmonies on top of bursts of synth and tropical-sounding bass.  Starting with an ambient whoosh, and reverberating synth reverberating guitar the beginning of “We Got It Wrong,” is reminiscent of Substance: 1987-era and later New Order, but with an anthemic hook before ending with some mournful horns. “September,” this site’s best single of 2012 is not only the song most likely to be a straight club-banger as it includes densely layered synths, huge, room rattling beats and Grobler singing in a sugary sweet falsetto, it’s the song most likely to remind you of Yaz, Depeche Mode and Cut Copy – but with equally layered harmonies throughout. “Too Close,” the longest song on the album at over 17 minutes pulsates as Grobler sings “I Want You/Too Close,” during the songs hook, and it sounds as though he’s singing it directly at you. Interestingly, the song bears quite a resemblance to both Giorgio Moroder and a movie soundtrack. And I can say the same with “The Way You Remember Me” which for some strange reason reminds me of “St. Elmo’s Fire” but with seductive horns throughout. And songs like album opener “The Night Comes Again” “and All Eyes on You” are slow burning pop ballads.

   I honestly can’t say it enough, each of When the Night’s 11 tracks are slickly produced, finely crafted and well-thought pop songs with some incredibly catchy hooks. And there are a number of songs that are truly memorable – in particular, the aforementioned “Elevate,” “September” “We Got It Wrong” and “Closer Than This.” But, despite how well written the album’s material is, there’s a sense that the material doesn’t feel as completely cohesive as it should be. Whereas the self-titled EP felt as though it were creating one overarching mood and tone, When the Night feels a bit more like a compilation of great and pretty decent songs. I can almost rearrange the sequence of songs or even remove a song or two, and essentially it would be the same album. Still those songs are so good that you can almost forgive that glaring issue – almost.