Whether or not the current heights of the indie synthpop revival bring you euphoria or despair, it’s clear that the entire experience has reached critical mass. Groups like CHVRCHES and Purity Ring have elevated the genre to critical acclaim through emotional electronic outpourings, while edgier acts like PVRIS and The 1975 have dabbled in these sonic elements to add texture and energy to their pop rock experiences.
In the midst of an arms race to capitalize on this recent explosion before it vanishes, it was only a matter of time before someone pushed the big, red button, detonating an excessive overdose of 80s-inspired rapture. That someone is St. Lucia.
Hailing from South Africa, St. Lucia is the brainchild of Jean-Phillip Grobler. The act burst onto the scene in 2013 with the exciting, but slightly uneven When the Night, a debut effort so full of potential that it makes their soon-to-come ascent to stardom all but predestined. Their latest release, Matter, brings an entire genre resurgence full circle – no longer bathed in 80s influence, this is inverse evolution synthpop, complete with gills and fins.
Matter manages to land somewhere in between the mindless and the intelligent wings of the aforementioned decade. You can feel memories of Wham! and Eurythmics float alongside the evocative production of bands like Depeche Mode and New Order in equal measure. Grobler’s lyrics will do little to elevate you on this release, but these songs are meant to be experienced in a way that usurps the need to think whilst you sing along.
“Do You Remember” opens the album with an absolute onslaught of synthesizers. It’s a wall of sound best experienced through noise-cancelling headphones, but you’ll have a tough time keeping them on while you dance around the room. Grobler’s choruses are often aided by the vocals of his wife, Patricia Beranek, who on this track helps him sing the lines, “Innocent hearts right in the middle of it / Innocent hearts, sign and deliver / You want to believe it? You’ll have to go slow”.
Many of the tracks on Matter push up to and past the five minute mark, but each passes in a flash. Look past the simple shell of each song and you’ll find Grobler taking you on a very intentional auditory journey. The elements of the tracks build upon one another and mesh in unexpected ways, creating a unique listening experience that requires much more attention than you’d expect.
The perfect embodiment of this lies in “Physical”, a track that is truly an exercise in endurance. Reveling in the exhilaration of sex between lovers, the pulsing beat can be overwhelming, but the song is asking us to enjoy the experience. It’s a non-stop celebration until its closing moments allow us to catch our breath to the sounds of a mellow trumpet, slowly fading to black.
“The Winds of Change” goes full-on Flock of Seagulls with blasting synthesizers atop its moody lower end, while “Rescue Me” reimagines Dead or Alive’s “You Spin Me Right Round” bass line for nearly two minutes before Grobler enters the song with the first vocal line. “Love Somebody” showcases St. Lucia’s slower side with an expertly crafted song that builds delicately atop gentle “wubs” and finger snaps. Not a lyrical masterpiece by any means, the track is still one of the most fascinating auditory experiences underneath the surface as Grobler repeats, “I wanna love someone / I wanna love somebody”.
Matter‘s high moment comes on “Dancing on Glass”, a song custom made to be a hit. Opening with the lines of, “Science and reason will tell us so / The blood in our veins are just chemicals”, the track shifts pace at an alarming rate and leads us continually back to its soaring chorus. It’s possibly the most unique song on the record, choosing to wear influence on its sleeve instead of becoming engulfed.
For most of the album’s 53-minute run time, celebration is paramount. In fact, each element is so sweetly saccharine that it’s nearly abrasive when Grobler takes moments for reflection. On “Help Me Run Away”, he finds himself drowning in his newfound world, singing, “Now I’m a child, a child without a mother / Who was a stranger to the American way / But now I’m fully acquainted so / You gotta help me run away”. It’s a reminder that the same New York lights that make us dance also tend to leave us out of breath. It’s up to you to decide whether to quickly reach for the repeat button when the music stops or sit quietly and let the silence do its bidding.
When the Night told of a band searching for its identity. St. Lucia has decisively declared it on Matter. Time will tell whether this experiment pays off, but whether it does or not, the move was an exciting one in light of the current synthpop surge. Like a mad scientist, Grobler has triggered an explosion – we’ll have to wait until the smoke clears to see the full effect.
by Kiel Hauck
Kiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple online and print publications and was most recently an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.