Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love
Singer-songwriter Andrew Choi (aka St. Lenox) thankfully makes it easy for the lazy music critic. Rather than having to fumble toward (and possibly fail to find) the overarching themes of his work, critics can just look at his album titles.
His first album, from 2014, was Ten Songs About Memory and Hope. His second, from 2016, was Ten Hymns from My American Gothic. And now, right on schedule for 2018, St. Lenox has released Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love.
Even with its new stated focus, some earlier themes make welcome returns on the new album, a collection full of rich musical arrangements and dense, intelligent lyrics.
The first two tracks are memories, maybe not so hopeful, and viewed with the wry humor of self-deprecating hindsight. The opener, “Hashtag Brooklyn Karaoke Party,” depicts our narrator trying to nurse a broken heart by dressing spiffy and belting out oldies at a gay bar karaoke night, only to return to the “sad bar corner” between songs. The second song, “First Date,” feels like a spiritual sequel to that heartbreak, flashing back presumably to Choi’s college days in Ohio, as he searches for companionship, safety, and someone to build a life with, in a series of awkward first date vignettes.
Check out the video for “First Date”:
The closing two tracks meanwhile revisit My American Gothic‘s meditations on family and the places that the singer has called home. “The Hungry Years” conjures a sadly relatable middle-American childhood, spent within a family living paycheck to paycheck: “Homemade fast food, burgers on white bread. She says it’s better than the real thing, yeah, but I know it’s not the real thing. She knows I know.” “Don’t Ever Change Me New York” finds our hero trying to maintain his integrity in a city that wants to corrupt him with money and empty beauty.
Check out the video for “Don’t Ever Change Me New York”:
St. Lenox new release; did video kill the radio star?
Integrity and authenticity are big concerns throughout Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love. “You’ve Got to Feel It” offers sarcastic advice for those who seek shortcuts to success. “Gold Star” is a bitterly funny attack on a fickle industry that is more likely to turn a marketable face with a viral video into a star than a talented craftsman who has paid more than enough dues. “Vincent Van Gogh” eloquently describes the not uncommon mental split within creative people – feeling like unworthy imposters and utterly under-appreciated geniuses at the same time.
There’s a sense of careful craftsmanship in the arrangement and recording of the songs on Ten Fables, which often build on simple guitar or piano lines and veer off from standard singer-songwriter fare into electro-pop, new wave-inflected indie rock, and even some jazzy funk.
Choi’s vocals offer a forceful counterpoint, as he lets his lyrics propel out in bold, rubato bursts. The lyrics infrequently incorporate rhymes, which gives the aura of an inner monologue-turned-dramatic-libretto. There’s artful economy in the way the lyrics are composed, but the emotional rawness of Choi’s singing gives the sense of words ejecting unscripted from his lips.
Ten Fables builds satisfyingly upon the albums that precede it. This new one is well worth checking out, but honestly all three are well worth checking out.
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Justin Remer makes movies, directs music videos, and plays in the bands Duck the Piano Wire and Elastic No-No Band when he is not writing movie reviews. His folk-rock documentary MAKING LOVERS & DOLLARS is currently streaming on Amazon.