There’s something of an unwritten rule in music journalism, an irony to start by stating in a written form that there is an unwritten rule I know, but that there are certain phrases that the more you use them, the less power they hold. One such phrase is ‘masterpiece’. The thing is once you’ve stated someone has made a masterpiece, you are saying they have reached the pinnacle of their craft, that what they have made would, if taken as the sum total of their work, represent an achievement worthy of the time put into it.
And yet, despite rambling my way through all of this, I’m ready to say Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times is St. Lenox’s masterpiece.
St. Lenox is the stage name of Andrew Choi, an American musician who performs intimate character-led indie bedroom pop that weaves through it the lo-fi theatricality of the likes of Michael Stipe and The Mountain Goats’ John Darnielle while firmly forging a singular path all of his own. Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times, his fourth full-length collection, hits upon themes of, funnily enough, religion, faith and the difficulties that the modern age brings to practising them.
Musically and structurally, the album is less a departure from the stylistic ideals of his previous albums than it is an evolution. St. Lenox still liberally employs rich textures of synths and a blend of live and programmed drums to great effect, especially on album highlight ‘Teenage Eyes’, which recalls Boys and Girls In America-era Hold Steady in its outside take on youthful excess. But the lo-fi trappings of the album should not be mistaken for simplicity, as these are some truly lush and complex compositions, hiding within its corners little flourishes to delight at every corner.
In talking about faith and worship, Lenox covers not just his own beliefs but aspects of multiple religions from Judaism in ‘Arthur is at a Shiva’ through to issues of belief outside of religion in album closer ‘Superkaminokande’, sharing a name with an observatory/telescope in Japan. By knowing that exploring faith and worship as not just religion but fully what people cling to for comfort, be it a higher power or intelligent life beyond ours, the collection quite wisely makes each story feel personal and focussed yet also universal in its relatability.
All these good intentions wouldn’t matter if the tunes didn’t back this up, in this instance, I highly doubt I’ll hear a more consistent collection this year. From Each track feels well-placed, creating the feeling of an intentional album instead of just a sequence of songs. From the wistful opener of ‘Deliverance’, encompassing the glockenspiel and harpsichord sound-flecked ‘The Great Blue Heron (Song of Solomon)’, through to esoteric experiments like the ‘Pachelbel’s Canon’-influenced ‘Bethesda’ the album delivers on taking the plaintiff spirit of hymns and applying it to thoughtful ruminations on the modern day.
On ‘Gospel of Hope’, Choi sings that he is “Not a religious man, but I can understand religion.” What makes this feel so special is it feels like an artist actually trying to understand other viewpoints, but also just plain trying. Not just making a collection because it’s been a few years since their last, but actively creating something because they feel they need to put this out into the universe and trying to make the best version of it they can. This is why I have no hesitance in declaring Ten Songs… St. Lenox’s masterpiece. Now I can’t wait for him to better it.
Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times is available now on Don Giovanni Records