God fucking damn do I love the synth gloriousness of the 1980s. Synthpop is back, and boy can I tell you that I am absolutely pumped that what goes around is finally coming back around. So many popular musicians are capitalising on the synthpop nostalgia train – Walk the Moon, Chvrches and The Temper Trap to name a few – and I could not be happier. Not quite as big as these groups is St. Lucia; the stage name of eccentric Brooklyn muso Jean-Philip Grobler, a self confessed lover of Peter Gabriel and the 80s sound of his childhood. These influences are obvious; Grobler’s debut album When the Night was praised for embodying the era’s ‘infectious campiness’, with lead single ‘Elevate’ balancing the line between mass appeal and 80s nostalgia with ease. Sophomore release Matter is really no different – except that it manages to take this campiness and nostalgia to the nth degree.
Where When The Night was more inspired by the 80s, Matter is an unabashedly over-the-top tribute to the era’s musical style. Lead single ‘Dancing on Glass’ is a perfect storm of John Hughes movie schtick; it’s not hard to imagine its soaring chorus (‘How long till we learn/That dancing is dangerous’) in place of Simple Minds’ ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ as the closing credits to The Breakfast Club roll. ‘Home’ evokes The Human League with Hall and Oates’ songwriting; interspersed with brass licks, claps and a percussion solo, its urgent pace makes for perfect montage music – you can virtually see the cut shots and fade outs as the protagonist trains his way to the top. The ebbs and flows of ‘Physical’ are ripped straight from an Olivia Newton John workout video, headband and all; whilst ‘Help Me Run Away’ has enough call and response backing vocals, slow building chorus and glittering synth arpeggios to make Bryan Ferry proud.
Matter plays like an 808 synthesizer coming alive; blasting out every stereotypical, deliciously overblown melody it ever created for 53 minutes before powering down and returning to dormant sleep forever more. Given, 53 minutes of straight synthesized tracks is an exhausting experience for most – there are very few truly ‘slow’ tracks to give the listener a break, and after a few listens one song may blend into five others. ‘Love Somebody’ is arguably the quietest on the tracklist; a Phil Collins homage complete with flute outro and sparse synthy guitar, that even still is pulsing with vibrancy. You have to be fully prepared to be thrown back thirty years, in a similar manner to what Walk the Moon’s debut Talking is Hard attempted to do. That’s what Matter is, in essence; the indie-kid’s Talking is Hard only with shitloads more energy and smarter, denser instrumentation. Hold on tight to your lycra and perms, kids.
Review by Bridget Rumball