We’d like to welcome aboard new contributor, Nick Kivi, who’ll be giving us music reviews and the ilk. Check out his first below!
By Nick Kivi
Andrew St. James sings songs about a coastline I’ve never seen. He says himself that he sings about “everyday people, only acknowledged by the first ten minutes of the nightly news.” He’s painting a picture of the West Coast in the Information Age, where technology has fixed almost every problem except how to stop your dreams from being ripped out from under you. It’s a picture that’s steeped in melancholy, where even the bright Pacific sun can’t evaporate the blues and withdrawal and heartbreak, but I’ll be damned if he doesn’t paint it pretty.
Doldrums is the incredibly impressive debut of San Franciscan singer-songwriter Andrew St. James. The songs spin together a combination of folk and post rock, with occasional musical forays into hip-hop. It’s a very modern culmination using classic elements. For example, “Visions” somehow pulls off sounding like Elvis Perkins with behind him ?uestlove on drums. The instrumentation is really striking throughout Doldrums. St. James takes the vocals, guitars, mandolins, bass, keyboards and percussion for himself while producer Jim Greer (of Foster the People fame) provides beats and a handful of other instruments. Other musicians turn up for guest spots on a couple tracks, but the two mostly hold down the fort themselves. While having musical and lyrical chops akin to Hasil Adkins and Jack Kerouac, the most impressive thing about St. James is his age. At 18, he’s released Doldrums while studying music at Berkley and hitting the road in between, all the while just recently being able to buy cigarettes.
It’s as a singer-songwriter that St. James shines the most. “The Lost, The Vain”, a minimalistic folk ballad, drops such lines as “When the things that you value/all fade away/your antiques and your covers / Mean nothing as of today / Your suitors and your lovers / are all detained / the lost the vain.” The song is a clinic in ways to elegantly say “fuck you.” Similarly, in the stomping “Maybe It’s Time for Me to Go,” he quips “Erotic malnutrition, the insults flying/yeah the god in the mirror has left to build his bible/Maybe it’s just time for me to go,” before catapulting into a falsetto wail. The second half of the album is more spaced out and acoustic than the first. Ambient and sparse, “I’m All About You” simmers in front of keys and taped conversations in the background.
While St. James gets to stand front and center in the spotlight, the production of Jim Greer is equally deserving of commendation. It’s patient and never flashy. “Visions” and “A Prayer for East Oakland” are enveloping and infectious, giving urban glimpses that complement the soulful sadness of the vocals. There’s a gallon of reverb poured over “Marigold,” but comparatively none on the following closer “Before the Flood.” Both decisions pay off.
It wouldn’t surprise me to see the young St. James’ career snowball into something rather remarkable. This much talent at such a young age is hard enough to come by on its own, and even when it does, it’s generally hidden behind pompous flash and grandeur. Andrew St. James has lived enough in his few years to understand the darkness, disappointment and cynicism that has saturated our generation. Luckily, he knows how to craft it into something beautiful. [8.5]