St. Lucia album review: ‘When the Night’

Shervin Lainez - Jean-Philip Grobler’s St. Lucia sounds will take you back to the 1980s from a sonic perspective, mixing keyboards and retro beats into cleverly crafted melodies.


“When the Night”

Kindred spirits: The Human League,
Phil Collins

Show: Tuesday at the Black Cat. Doors open at 8 p.m. 202-667-4490. Show is sold out.

The brainchild of South African-born singer-songwriter Jean-Philip Grobler, St. Lucia combines intricate layering characteristic of electronic music with anthemic melodies inspired by ’80s synth pop, creating a dynamically rich sonic serotonin.

Almost every song on St. Lucia’s debut LP, “When the Night,” feels like a hit, distilled to its rawest form and then filled with fuzzy keyboards, angelic vocals (supplied by Grobler and wife Patricia Beranek), endless beats and rolling drum fills. “The Night Comes Again” begins with a subtle, dreamy synth-chord progression that’s quickly thickened by effects and transformed by a driving retro beat vaguely reminiscent of Phil Collins. It’s more of a trance than a well-made song and the lyrics may be simple (a six-line ode to the invincibility of the night), but the result is no less affecting than more traditionally structured tracks such as “Wait for Love.”

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Throughout the album, Grobler playfully conjures ghosts from the ’80s: The rhythmic keyboard phrasing on “Elevate” brings to mind Gloria Estefan’s “Rhythm Is Gonna Get You,” and “Call Me Up” is reminiscent of Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al.”

With all the nostalgia, St. Lucia could easily feel derivatively bland. But Grobler’s keenly crafted melodies and layered production propel the genre forward rather than wallow in it. The title song, at an expansive seven-plus-minutes, ends the album with an atmospheric flourish that suggests Grobler may have ambitions beyond pop.

—Christopher Kompanek

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