New York’s St Lucia were decidedly unflashy when we saw them performing live on stage before a crowd of variously amused early adopters and bemused stumble-uponers on the last day of, of all months, September this year. I’d heard of the band, ostensibly frontman Jean-Philip Grobler with support from a four-piece (methinks) troupe, through Xaphoon Jones. The beat-making half of Chiddy Bang has long had an association with New York City’s uber-cool Neon Gold Records (see releases for Passion Pit, Ellie Goulding, The Naked & Famous) and regularly remixes stable staples and mates for his solo projects and for kicks. What he did with the whimsical, slow ‘We Got It Wrong‘ probably gave me the wrong initial impression of St Lucia as through myriad drum machines and womping synths, it was difficult to see the engaging band (forest) from the glitch-tastic remix take on one of their first singles (trees). My Xaphoon crush is a well-known phenomenon by now. But in this case, it almost prevented me from discovering the truth behind St Lucia.
Part of the reason St Lucia didn’t garner a bigger crowd on that sunny September day has to do with the fact that although this track was by that point getting some airplay on national radio, the band remained (and remains) fairly under the radar. Moreover, Grobler’s take on typical synth pop/rock is too left of mainstream to grab your attention from a stage or gozleme stand away. Unlike many of his contemporaries, there is nothing particularly explosive about St Lucia. There were no pyrotechnics, not much in the way of big lighting or readily shoutable choruses and even his volume wasn’t earplugs-at-the-ready offensive. You got the sense that Grobler would have deemed such theatrics gauche. Instead, St Lucia songs, particularly ‘We Got It Wrong’ and especially ‘September’ are more like Grobler reflecting on certain themes and sentiments, taking his time with them, molding responses to them and leaving those reactive tracks in a somewhat unfinished state. In some respect, the process behind developing songs is laid bare with St Lucia. This is not tight, drilled pop. This is expansive, warts-and-all, leisurely 5’47” sonic treatise.
Jean-Philip Grobler – originally a Johannesburg, South Africa local who travelled the world with a boys choir before moving to London and then onto capital of cool NYC – and his serious attitude to performing, even before a measly, half-interested crowd halfway across the world, is evidence of how much he has invested in these songs. While there were no explosions, no dancers, no screens and no hooks to yelp out to earn cultural capital, something about the way Grobler really imbued his songs with all his energy, a certain intensity, made the human spectacle as exciting to watch as any audiovisual alternative. ‘September’ is an exemplar of the kind of simple-then-sophisticated music St Lucia push. In many places, it merely consists of a light drum beat and Grobler’s falsetto. In others, particularly after Grobler’s voice snap back in multiplied form (very much reminiscent of Julian Hamilton’s Presets work), electric guitars, richer, fuller drums and dark reverb on the vocal track plunges the song into murkier waters. ‘September’ is awesome – inspired, complex, challenging and moody – and it certainly deserves more of an audience than it got.
St Lucia – September