The music of Andrew St. James reverberates with an intangible familiarity. The prolific San Francisco musician works in a vernacular that might be loosely defined as Americana, though nothing about his output feels explicitly revivalist or traditional. St. James has an uncanny knack for at first making you think, “I’ve heard that before,” only to leave you fumbling through a warren of hazy recollections, none of which are quite discernable in the neon glow of the closing time beer lights.
St. James, a bulwark of the local indie scene, reaches that subconscious sublimity again and again on his latest album, Light After Darkness, an 11-song collection of wobbly, tragicomic folk songs that debuted on November 12.
With a nasally, lilting vocal delivery, St. James sings like a man who is constantly battling back from affliction, pleading for recognition, for acceptance, for redemption—for any reason that will give his life meaning. That foreboding aura of urgency is what makes his interpretation of the Great American Songbook uniquely his own.
Each track on Light After Darkness begins with that faint, intimate vibe of recognition before embarking on its own path. “Slow Dive” kicks off as a dead ringer for Dylan’s “Idiot Wind” until an elegiac pedal steel is introduced, transforming the track from a self-righteous sendoff into a mournful ballad. The chrome-plated, muscular riffs of “Grounded” evoke Jason Isbell-era Drive By Truckers, but the through-the-roof chorus of the song provides a sense of hope never found in that band’s Southern swamps.
“Darkness Strangles You” is a funereal, macabre production, cribbed from the playbook of Bonnie “Prince” Billy, but St. James is too vibrant to commit to Will Oldham’s morosity, and even though the song stays dark and dense, it never feels overwhelmingly bleak. The following track, “Your Light’s on Fire,” starts with a cacophonous outburst of tingling guitars and ethereal voices a la Sung Tongs-era Animal Collective, before quickly transitioning into a Laurel Canyon rock number.
The common thread throughout Light After Darkness is St. James’ mastery of musical collage. The album definitively proves that St. James is a grand architect with a knack for conjuring irresistible earworms from snippets of half-forgotten riffs, echoes of nostalgic harmony—like the serendipitous harmonic fusion that you can sometimes stumble into late at night in the fuzzy, in-between spaces on the FM dial.
Listen to “Slow Dive” below.