Chances are that the first time you heard of St. Lucia (real name Jean-Philip Grobler) it was because you’ve stumbled across one of his many remixes. South African-born Grobler has reworked a number of other artist’s work including Passion Pit’s “Constant Conversation” and the brilliant “Little Games” by The Colourist. He was also responsible for production on HAERTS’ debut album from 2014. In terms of St. Lucia’s own material, he can call upon his fresh to death debut When The Night from 2013. This album was slick, unadulterated 80’s throwback at its finest; a pretty accurate snapshot of a decade of shoulder pads, knee warmers, and Rick Astley’s trench coat.
Brooklyn-based Grobler is clearly a huge fan of 80’s music. He has cited artists such as Phil Collins and Fleetwood Mac as massive influences in his music and its plain to see right from the off with his second album Matter. Opening track “Do You Remember?” is about as 80’s as you can get. The people that know me well will tell you my two favourite periods of music are synthpop and rock circa 1985 and any indie and pop from the early to mid 90’s. I’m a firm believer in canonising Whitney Houston as a saint. So this opening track had me waltzing through imaginary pastures like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. It has all my favourite components of an 80’s track including massive, chunky synths and the kind of overwrought snares that make you raise a fist to the sky and thank God for Yamaha drum machines. I’m also a firm believer in making the first track of your album a real belter. If you’re going to dick around with a three-minute intro you’d better have something special to back it up. If you’re first track is weak then you’ve got a real struggle on your hands to claim your listener’s attention. St. Lucia gets it right here by choosing a brilliant, hook-heavy track to open Matter.
“Home” is even better. It channels all the best attributes of Lionel Richie creating a disco heavy track of epic, good time kinds of vibes. “Game 4 U” retreats into a heartfelt plea to a loved one over betrayal and lost connections. “Physical” puts you through a real workout with its frantic synth-laden delivery. It’s actually very reminiscent of Bloc Party’s 2008 track “Mercury”. St. Lucia doesn’t just recycle a decade’s worth of music for the sole reason to put out Matter. If you listen to When The Night or any of his remixes you’ll notice that while his music comes across as breezy and fun there is a faint sense of longing, evident in tracks such as “Love Somebody”. It’s a slow, sultry R&B jam and it really accentuates Grobler’s vocal prowess. It’s as strong and assured as I’ve heard a male pop vocalist for a long, long time.
I was a little dubious when I first listened to “The Winds of Change,” but thankfully instead of being a tribute to Scorpions’ pseudo political ballad from 1990 it’s actually a Madonna-esque synth pop extravaganza. “Talk to me right through the night again; tell me things I never want to hear” laments Grobler, opting for a tale of soul searching in spite of the happy, summery music.
I went into this album already a huge fan of St. Lucia and thankfully Matter ticked all my boxes. There are times when you require a synth pop record without any of the crap that modern artists choose to add to it in order to make it more edgy, avant garde, or unique. There are times when you’d much prefer an artist comfortable in his own craft rather than an artist determined to change their own musical DNA in an attempt to be noticed. I respect artists like St. Lucia because they stick to what they’ve always done and play to their strengths. The once black and white structure of genres has become incredibly blurred these past few years and it can become an arduous task to find a ‘pure genre’ record. That is what Matter is and it does a damn fine job of it. A triumphant sophomore effort from St. Lucia.