Eras of Influence: An Introduction to the Artists that Define My Musical Journey

If you’re a regular listener of our podcast, you’ve heard PopMatters’ Evan Sawdey speak about his concept of the “Imperial Period.” Essentially, the idea is that all great artists have a specific period of time in which they are not only creating their best art, but are also holding their greatest level of influence and general popularity. It’s a fun exercise to map out the imperial period of our favorite artists, but at some point during the doldrums of 2020, I began expanding the concept in a more personal direction.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve obviously developed a longer tail of musical interests. Music that was precious to me at one point in time now feels like eons ago. But nevertheless, my passion and interest in new music has followed me along. When looking back, I can define specific periods of my life by one central artist. Not that I listened exclusively to this artist, but that their music and influence rippled out in such a way that a specific sound or sentiment provided a sort of emotional arc to that stretch of my life.

And that brings us this inherently dumb exercise. What else are you supposed to do when you can’t leave the house?

Starting current day, I worked my way backward to dissect chunks of my life that feel tied to a specific artist. For example, when I think of the past five years, I can’t separate my interests and experience from Halsey. Her music, her art, her personality, her sound serve as the epicenter of influence for this period of my life, From there, my other main interests splinter out from that point. It’s not a math equation, but it’s definitely a real feeling that I can define when I close my eyes and think about how my mood moves me from song to song and artist to artist.

I’ve broken down the years of my life into chunks that can be defined by an artist, along with “honorable mentions” that serve as a kind of a second tier. The early years of my life have no central artist, because I was simply exploring music through the interests of my mom and eventually my friends. My first personal “era” began in 1997, which we’ll examine in full in a later installment.

For now, we’ll begin with the early years, which set the table for my own personal exploration. Many thanks to my mom, whose love of music (and sharing the music she loved) undoubtedly molded me into the person I am today in so many ways. So, without further ado, here goes nothing!

The 1980s: Michael Jackson, Genesis, Queen

My first memory of listening and enjoying music involves a cassette tape of Knee Deep in the Hoopla by Starship (formerly Jefferson Starship, formerly Jefferson Airplane). According to my mom, she purchased the tape after I continually showed interest in the singles “We Built This City” and “Sara” when they played on the radio. I remember playing the tape on a Walkman that my mom and I shared, rewinding to listen to “We Built This City” again and again. If I close my eyes, I can still almost feel the scratchy, puffy headphones over my ears and the gentle hum of the Walkman in my hands.

Those early years of my life were solely influenced by the music that my mom played. And she played music a LOT. In the house, in the car, on a boombox while we lounged in the backyard. The albums I remember the most are Bad by Michael Jackson, Invisible Touch by Genesis, and Queen’s Greatest Hits album. I remember how she used to play “We Will Rock You”, “We Are the Champions” and “Another One Bites the Dust” as she drove me to tee-ball games.

In those early days of my life, I stayed at the home of a babysitter while my parents went to work. The woman whose home I stayed at had a teenage daughter. She would burst through the door each afternoon, drop her backpack on the floor, hop into a recliner, and turn the television to MTV. It was there that I saw the video for the aforementioned “We Built This City”, Jackson’s “Bad”, and his sister Janet’s “Rhythm Nation” and Paula Abdul’s “Straight Up”. 

I soaked up every line and every note like a sponge. There was no going back and no alternative. Music wasn’t just going to be background noise in my journey through life. It was going to be an obsession.

Next, I’ll examine how the 90s helped me spread my wings and discover music I could call my own.

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel Hauck is the editor in chief at It’s All Dead. Over the past decade, he has been a contributor for multiple pop culture outlets and was previously an editor at PopMatters. Kiel currently resides in Indianapolis, IN with his wife, daughter, and their imaginary pet, Hand Dog. You can follow him on Twitter.

Review: St. Lucia – Matter

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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.

You can buy Matter on iTunes.

You can buy Matter on iTunes.

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.

4/5

by Kiel Hauck

kiel_hauckKiel 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.