Published Feb 12, 2016If trendiness is currency then Jean-Philip Grobler of New York's St. Lucia is filthy rich. With a wallet fattened by hot tips about what's en vogue and EDM calling cards, he's like a kid in a record store who spends it all just to be current. Matter is the South-African-born songwriter's second full-length release, and is more consciously stylized than his breezier debut When the Night.
There's relatively no atmosphere and groove this time around, and many of the songs seem forced, as if he's tried to ensure this one goes mainstream. Matter is so full of late '70s and '80s throwbacks that it scans as pastiche prepackaged for nightclubs rather than as an original work. "The Winds of Change" intros with a devilishly catchy synth hook that captivates long enough for us to realize Grobler's simply borrowed from Earth, Wind & Fire's 1979 single, "Boogie Wonderland." Unfortunately, his version's got the clean and clear falsetto, but no feel. "Rescue Me" samples the synthetic pulse of "Thriller" and uses it merely as the foundation for a hopelessly cheesy melody. Such uninspired writing will come as a shock to anyone familiar with St. Lucia's previous material. Most of the other tracks play like hybrids of Depeche Mode and Baltimora (you know, "Tarzan Boy"?). Grobler hopes to get by on our sense of nostalgia and perhaps what's proven to be hip in the past, but an imitation of cool doesn't necessarily equal cool.
In his defense, he wrote a majority of Matter between shows while on tour and so didn't have the same studio time he had back in 2013. Album highlight "Help Me Run Away" includes a boy-girl call and answer that provides a nice touch, but the only track that's fresh and doesn't carry the stale smell of bygone eras is the single "Love Somebody." It's the one song on the record that feels real, as if it actually came from St. Lucia and not a shop somewhere near Broadway. (Columbia)