St. Lucia's 'Hyperion' Finds the Sunlight Between the Clouds
We have to get to the point where we see each other as human again. On Hyperion, St. Lucia is trying to show us the way. We need to start listening.
21 September 2018
Sometimes it is good to remember the sun exists. It is good to take a break from the things that make you sad, make you angry, make you hurt in ways that nobody should have to hurt. Sometimes it is good to indulge, to dance, to remember that there are reasons to get up in the morning that don't involve a fight, to remember that love is an honest-to-god thing that humans can do to and for one another. And sometimes, to remember these things, you need a tap on the shoulder from a smiling face.
Jean-Philip Grobler, as St. Lucia, is not naïve to the evils of the world, it's just that he chooses not to stare at them for too long. It is an approach that has served him well to this point, and Hyperion, his latest work as St. Lucia, feels like the next logical step in his evolution. What's more, in 2018, it feels almost revelatory.
Hyperion begins with "Bigger", an ode to Grobler's son with wife and bandmate Patricia Beranek, a beautiful bit of "don't let the bastards grind you down" put in the sunniest possible terms. "Your heart is bigger than they say, for sure / No, your heart will never entertain their minds," he sings, exhorting his son to rise above, to exemplify the very word "bigger" even while those around him might make him feel small. It's a beautiful sentiment, buoyed by Beranek's perfect pianos and a rock beat with just a hint of the obscure and the tropical floating around in the background. "Bigger" is one of the highlights of Hyperion, a track that's easy to listen to over and over again.
The same is true of "Paradise Is Waiting", an ode to patience that owes more than just a debt of gratitude to George Michael's "Freedom '90". Pianos that immediately evoke Michael's hit kick things off, followed closely by the choirs that buoy the chorus, followed even then, halfway through the song, by a guitar lick that could have been straight off of something on Faith. This would all be pretty indefensible if Grobler didn't pull it off with such believable aplomb, going big with his vocal melodies from the start, and following with a huge beat when that guitar kicks in that let him and that choir vamp wonderfully for a solid two minutes or so. The arc of this song -- the sense of build, the storytelling offered not just by the lyrics but by the music itself -- is utterly breathtaking.
It turns out that many of Hyperion's best moments are dedicated to instantly recognizable artists of the '80s. "Walking Away", all squelchy bass and big guitar chords, is the Doobie Brothers/Hall & Oates mashup you never knew you needed. The heavy vocal reverb and thick synth sound of "Full Moon Rising" instantly evokes Tears for Fears. Believe it or not, there's even a track -- "Next to You" -- that carries the pace and gait of a Billy Joel piano ballad.
Even so, the final track, and possibly the strongest on the album, is pure St. Lucia. "You Should Know Better" builds its beat out of some video-game static buzz, but that's a red herring -- mostly, this is a perfect slow-burn synth-based pop song, with more beautiful melodies that lean on Grobler's falsetto and Beranek's beautifully subtle backing vocals. The best part, however, comes once Grobler finishes singing, less than three minutes into the song. The song carries on with just Beranek's backing vocals, one of many instruments that pile in one-by-one for the next three minutes, all of it over repeated four-note patterns that have as much in common with a Bach Invention as they do any given pop song. It builds and it builds into this beautiful, euphoric behemoth before vanishing into thin air after more than six glorious minutes.
Grant that not all of it works. "Tokyo" sounds a little trite, with a tossed-off chorus and a quick beat that never quite catches, while "China Shop" flirts ever so close to the offensive with a melody/synth-sound combination that sounds awfully "generic Asian" before the song settles into its pop rhythm.
The low points are the exceptions, though. Hyperion is a fascinating album, a veritable instruction book for taking a clear-eyed look at everything around you and choosing positivity, choosing optimism. Hell, there's even a song that touches on gun control -- the appropriately-titled "Gun" -- and while it's likely the darkest lyric on the album, it still settles on something like universality: "Everyone does it / Everyone's got their own disillusion."
We have to get to the point where we see each other as human again. We have to get to a point where hate takes a back seat to love, where understanding conquers judgment. On Hyperion, St. Lucia is trying to show us the way. We need to start listening.