PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


St. Lenox Reconstructs the Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love

St. Lenox creates fables more than stories, where the line between fabulism and realism exists is purposely smudged. These are songs that not only make you think but make you feel.

Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love
St. Lenox


28 September 2018

Andrew Choi, who goes by the moniker St. Lenox, is a lyrical genius with a strong sense of rhythm and a deep appreciation of the emotional resonances inherent in basic electronic sound effects. His free-flowing narratives sparkle with wit, sensitivity, intelligence, and imagination, and Choi gives them a pop soundtrack. Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love reaffirms the universality of personal experiences as he remembers the past and tries to make sense of the present. He transforms his stories into appetizing confections that make them go down easy, even when the subjects get heavy.

Consider the autobiographical ballad called "Vincent Van Gogh" in which he compares his situation as an unhappy, solitary troubadour to the suicidal Dutch master. Like Van Gogh, Choi's just "a poor crazy hipster with a blue streak". Choi equates the sky of the crows in a cornfield or a starry night and Van Gogh's melancholia with Choi's own poetic logorrhea and sadness. The pomposity of the sentiment is belied by the lack of confidence expressed by the protagonist. Choi sings in an aching voice that gains in intensity over the length of the song, sometimes breaking into falsetto to express the strength of his feelings. Yet because of the musical trappings, Choi's voice over a martial-beat that becomes dance music through its use of repetition, the seriousness of the song's concerns never get in the way. Or more precisely, Choi melodramatically takes its subject too seriously and turns it into an operatic cartoon with an affected instrumental backdrop. Kill the wabbit, indeed!

Choi's a Whitmanian who sings of himself in long lines. He, too, celebrates himself, New York City, the diverse people and occupations of Americans, and the body electric. There are two songs with Whitman's hometown of Brooklyn in the title ("Hashtag Brooklyn Karaoke Party" and "Brooklyn Superdream") full of wry observations about the people and places he encounters ("steampunk woman at the butcher store cheese shopping deep in the ghetto") and his search for love ("heartbroken at the dance floor at the gay bar singing songs about gin and whiskey") that capture the old courage teacher's modern sensibility.

Choi also has one track that explicitly addresses the Gotham City's bohemian values. "Don't Ever Change Me New York City" concerns the importance of living an authentic existence. That's why he moved to the Big Apple; not for the money but for its cosmopolitan ethos. He tells his story over a strummed acoustic guitar and presumably a lightly blown ocarina to express his sincerity. The sound of an old video game and a bicycle bell ring in the background to show that while the trappings of his rural youth have changed, he is still the same person ("country simpleton Midwest small town walking archetype, walking amongst the skyscrapers, restless as winter").

Besides being a rural denizen who has moved to the city, Choi is the son of Korean immigrants and sees America with the double vision of the insider/outsider. The album's most poignant song is a tribute to growing up with parents who emigrated from a war zone full of scarcity and worked hard to maintain a middle-class, small-town life. Their sacrifices make his ("homemade fast food, burgers on white bread") seem petty, but the pressure he was under to succeed ("You gotta save every penny and dime. You gotta save every minute and hour") was intense. Because of circumstances, he never had to suffer the way his parents had, but he could never be comfortable because he knew what his parents had gone through so he could be comfortable. Does he contradict himself? He contains multitudes, as do we all.

Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love is full of small musical moments that can lighten the mood or add depth to a seemingly commonplace topic. For example, "You've Got to Feel It" at different moments has resonances of Bob Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone", Van Morrison's "Tupelo Honey" and the Beatles' "Here, There, and Everywhere" that bubble and burst like champagne. That's part of the magic. These are fables more than stories, and where the line between fabulism and realism exists is purposely smudged. These are songs that not only make you think but make you feel it, baby.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.


Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.


'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.


ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.


The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.


Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.


Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.


Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".


John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.


The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.


Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.


In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.


Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.