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St. Lucia Debuts with “When the Night”

Matt McMahon | Monday, October 7, 2013

I have been anticipating this album for months. Seeing St. Lucia open for fun. last summer brought the group to my attention, and, along with that show, a great EP solidified them as an early first-day, can’t-miss act at 2013’s Governors Ball Music Festival.  

There, amidst the misty beginnings to a downfall that would later make Randall’s Island a mudslide for the entire weekend, the band’s performance of then-unreleased “When the Night” lead single “Elevate” brought a few rays of sunshine through the clouds. An undeniably danceable track, the song honored its name and beautiful hook and lifted the crowd away from the current weather conditions.  

The band enveloped courageous festivalgoers in sweeping synth melodies, four-on-the-floor rhythm and strong, smooth vocals. For the rest of that muddy weekend, the song kept returning to me; the band had done their job of gaining recognition through the early timeslot to perfection.

Now, the Brooklyn-based St. Lucia releases its debut studio LP, “When the Night,” to open ears and itching feet.  

“When the Night” approaches synthpop in a traditional manner, putting the voices of founder and main-contributor Jean-Philip Grobler and keyboardist and backing vocalist Patricia Beranek on display at a level equal to the shining instrumentation. It’s the type of angelic attitude toward music that’s expected of a previous member of the internationally traveled Drakensberg Boys Choir School.  

In this proclaimed “post-chillwave” 2013, Grobler could have just as easily augmented vocal samples, chopped up and battered the group’s own contributions, stuck it underneath thick reverb and heavy, distorted walls of sound and created a recognizable indietronica release. However, his respect for his craft helps bring the album a starting point for celebration.

Meticulous production throughout the record impeccably captures an array of fluid moods, from the haunting “September” to the uplifting “Elevate,” and the somber “All Eyes on You” to the optimistic, bright “Closer Than This.” The instrumentation does a similarly proper job at building a backdrop for the songs to play against, notably in jungle-y, falsetto “Wait For Love” and wispy, nostalgic “The Way You Remember Me,” with its welcomed saxophone feature. Floating, unattached percussion timbres accompany often-pulsating synth lines and bass beats in a way that’s somewhat detached from, yet properly suited for, the higher-register, pure vocal work.

The ambient sonic levels that some of the songs eventually end up navigating in, seamlessly fading from theme-repeating, concluding melodies sprinkled with horns to this gazing atmosphere recalls long, warm summer nights in the tropics. While the songs dissolve into this spacious region, rather than outlasting their welcome, the extensions are encouraged.  

This is the sound that embodies the evening on the beach you didn’t want to end, so you fought sleep for as long as possible only to be left in a daze of semi-coherence. And instead of waking up to the disappointment of the next morning, the next day’s party has already started in the form of the following song on the album. Or, in the case of the strained closer, title track “When the Night,” the final minutes punctuate the entire album before it, lending to another listen while leading back into the aptly named title track “The Night Comes Again.” Even at 55 minutes, the album beckons to be played in full once more, and the nostalgia hits as hard as the lush waves of synth riffs just starting up again.

Unfortunately, the one main issue with “When the Night” is more about the logistics than about the music itself. Nearly half of the tracks featured on the album, five of 11, were already released either as singles or as part of the band’s EP. These songs are some of the strongest, but while their inclusion is good for the album, there’s no attempt at reinterpretation here. Knowing this, St. Lucia could have capitalized on focusing the newly recorded songs to coincide tighter thematically with the previously released tracks.

Still, considering “When the Night” as a proper full-length debut, this gripe is slight. St. Lucia puts together a remarkably infectious collection of songs representing Grobler’s – and his co-conspirators’- affinity and ability to produce swirling, moody synthpop.

Contact Matt McMahon at mmcmaho7@nd.edu