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Album Review: St. Lucia’s St. Lucia EP

St. Lucia

St. Lucia EP

Neon Gold/Columbia Records

Release Date: March 6, 2012

Track Listing

  1. We Got It Wrong
  2. The Old House is Gone
  3. All Eyes on You
  4. Before the Dive
  5. Paper Heart
  6. Closer Than This

Born in Johannesburg, South Africa, Jean-Phillip Grobler, better known as St. Lucia grew up performing with the Drakensberg Boys Choir School. When the choir wasn’t traveling the globe – the choir had performed in Europe, Japan, Australia, the US and others – they stayed in a remote enclave in the South African mountains learning Bach, minimalist opera and Celine Dion. But as a teenager, Grobler had started to get a bit bored with classical music, and when he discovered Radiohead – in particular their essential OK Computer – the young Grobler had a musical epiphany. Eventually he left South Africa and spent a couple of years studying music in Liverpool before heading off to New York – Brooklyn, actually – like countless other musicians hoping to make it big.

   In 2010, Grobler had begun working on a rock project that started to feel forced, and he started looking back at the music that he had loved and grew up listening to as a child – 1980s synth pop and African music. After playing what was considered some of the best sets of last year’s CMJ Festival, St. Lucia started gaining a lot of attention from the blogosphere, as well as labels – including Neon Gold.

   Sonically, St. Lucia’s debut will draw comparisons to acts like Washed Out, Birds & Batteries, and several others. After all, they all draw heavily from the same formula – slick synth lines, achingly plaintive and earnest vocals, big beats, and a bright, Technicolor feel. For those of us who clearly remember the 80s, it certainly brings back a strong sense of nostalgia for some incredibly well-written, well-crafted pop songs – and the material on the St. Lucia EP is just as well-written and well-crafted. Starting with an ambient whoosh, echo synth lines and reverberating guitar chords, the beginning of “We Got It Wrong,” is reminiscent of Substance: 1987-era and later New Order, before ending with some mournful horns. “All Eyes on You,” and “Before the Dive,” are the slow-burning synth pop ballads. But album closer, “Closer Than This,” is probably the EP’s standout track. Granted, any differences between St. Lucia and his contemporaries are quite subtle – some African drumbeats here and there, the addition of horns at points, a sunnier, more upbeat tempo, and as amiable as the tracks are, the material hews closely to its source material. 

   Grobler may well have to do more to set himself apart from both his contemporaries and his influences but he has an uncanny ability to write infectiously catchy, anthemic pop hooks with a refreshing lack of cynicism and irony. Yes, the universe may well be ironic and cruel but people do actually feel things – often quite profoundly and sincerely, and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s not a perfect album but there’s enough to like about the material for it to subconsciously join your summer and fall music rotation. 

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