Without straying too far from its synthesizer-infused dance pop roots, St. Lucia relies less on computer-generated melodies on its third album, “Hyperion,” than in earlier albums.
The band materialized from the New York City indie electronic scene in 2012. They’ve had nominal mainstream recognition — their 2016 sophomore album, “Matter,” peaked at No. 97 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart and No. 9 on its top alternative albums list. However, both “Matter” and their debut “When the Night” were well received by critics.
With the exception of the synth-heavy “Brighter Love,” the band has managed to incorporate more instruments on their latest release while also maintaining a cohesive sound. This makes for a more diverse set of songs.
In its combination of smooth instrumentals, the song ”Next to You” employs a saxophone, which gives it a jazzy feel.
“Bigger” and “Paradise is Waiting,” the first and third tracks respectively, both feature upbeat piano riffs. “Paradise is Waiting” brings to mind George Michael’s “Freedom!” with its buoyant instrumentals, gospel-inspired background vocals and uplifting message. The track’s relentless optimism is a common thread throughout the album.
Jean-Philip Grobler, the frontman of St. Lucia, has stated that many of “Hyperion’s” songs are reactionary to current world affairs but with a positive outlook. Some include vaguely political messages hidden behind catchy tunes.
For instance, “Walking Away” echoes the frustration of modern debate. Its repetition of the chorus, “Sometimes it feels like we’re just walking away” in an almost whiny pitch accentuates the irritation of internet disputes riddled with ignorance and circular logic. The song “Gun” obviously addresses gun violence — “You said you wanted to feel / A gun in your hands / Aluminum and steel / Measure the man” — but it also alludes to power dynamics in sexual situations. And the song “Next to You” mentions political conflict — “And somewhere in a desert another bomb fell” — as well as controversy surrounding President Donald Trump. But in the spirit of optimism, the song is about the comfort of a lover can bring during difficult times.
The band is no stranger to covering potentially controversial yet relevant topics through their music. The song “Dancing On Glass,” which appeared on “Matter,” explores themes of mental health and addiction.
However, nostalgia is clearly “Hyperion’s” major theme. Throughout the record, the motif emerges in both content and sound.
The song “Last Dance,” with its dreamy synthesizer melodies mixed in with soft percussion and sentimental vocals, sounds as though it were ripped from a high school dance scene in a John Hughes movie. The second chorus of “Paradise is Waiting” expresses a longing to return to old times: “If we should go back / To what we once were / And the feelings we had / Then maybe there’s life in the things that have died.” Others songs contain references to older pop culture such as The Beatles (“Tokyo”) and James Dean (“Last Dance”).
The synth-pop group has always drawn inspiration from ‘80s pop classics such as Phil Collins, Michael Jackson and Talk Talk. But never before have they been so unapologetically retro as in “Hyperion,” wearing their ‘80s influences on their sleeves. The album itself is named after a Dan Simmons sci-fi epic published in 1989, as well as Hyperion, the Greek titan of heavenly light.
Aside from the George Michael influence of ”Paradise is Waiting,” “Hyperion” is shaped by many of the decade’s musical giants. Their song “A Brighter Love” is reminiscent of Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love.” “Gun” seems to be an amalgamation of influences — the eight-bit intro parallels a-ha’s “Take On Me” while the rest of the song has a distinctive arena rock style with a synthesizer tune that closely resembles “Jump” by Van Halen.
The members of St. Lucia are not the only artists revisiting the music of the ‘80s MTV generation. “Dirty Computer,” Janelle Monáe’s latest album, released in April 2018, was largely inspired by her late mentor, Prince. Her first single, “Make Me Feel,” borrows one of its most prominent synth melodies from the famous introductory chord of the pop legend’s hit song “Kiss.” Troye Sivan’s “Bloom” also adopts classic ‘80s elements such as vocal modulation (“My My My!”) and gated reverb snare drums (“Bloom”) — although the South African singer didn’t live through the decade.
This resurgence of ‘80s pop culture is not just relegated to music. Film and television have also recently experienced trends toward nostalgia. The sequel to 1982’s “Blade Runner” and movie adaptations of Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One” and Stephen King’s “It” were all popular with audiences.
Shows that have capitalized on this sentimentality include Netflix’s widely popular sci-fi adventure drama “Stranger Things” and “GLOW” the comical depiction of the iconic Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Some programs that originally aired in the ‘80s are being rebooted, such as a more inclusive “Love Connection” hosted by Andy Cohen and two classic crime series: “Miami Vice” and “Magnum P.I.”
While “Hyperion’s” sound is mostly consistent throughout the album, there is one outlier. Like the intro to “Gun,” the song “You Should Know Better” has a video game-like beat. You’ll enjoy the song if you appreciate Nintendo theme music. Otherwise, the eight-bit melody would appear an odd choice.
St. Lucia will be performing at Toad’s Place on Sunday, Nov. 11. They’re known for their dynamic stage presence and energetic live performances. “Hyperion” no doubt provides a fresh batch of material that continues this trend without sounding too matter-of-course.
The album delivers on St. Lucia’s signature high energy danceable hits while slightly scaling back the electronic tunes that dominate their previous works. With its incorporation of current issues and ‘80s pop fundamentals, the album contains music that is both reminiscent of a bygone decade and relevant to the modern day.
AMBER BRAKER | firstname.lastname@example.org .