St. Lenox Explores Complexities of Faith on ‘Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times’
Andrew Choi works full-time as a lawyer in midtown Manhattan, but he’s also a classically trained violinist and formidable singer-songwriter with four records under his moniker, St. Lenox. His newest, Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times (which follows the same title structure as 2015’s Ten Songs About Memory and Hope, 2016’s Ten Hymns from My American Gothic, and 2018’s Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love) is a keyboard-centric album stemming from a folk-punk ethos that highlights such intimidating topics — through the lens of being a gay, progressive Korean-American with multiple successful careers — in musically accessible ways.
Throughout Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times, Choi weaves multiple stories on faith, healing, agnosticism, and the end of times. Some tracks are very clearly autobiographical, whereas others (like lead single “Arthur is at a Shiva”) seem more fictionalized, even if based on real life experiences. In “What It Is Like to Have Children,” Choi sings about a fever dream his maternal grandmother had about his mother’s “earthly arrival” and how that has impacted his own decision to have kids. He sings, “This story informs much of my point of view / of having children and the general experience of parenting” before acknowledging “the fear and wonder at the very thought of raising precious children of my very own.” Elsewhere, “Our Tumultuous Times” is very clearly a response to current events, “read[ing] the chyrons on the screen today, got a real bad feeling ’bout the state of things.”
But it’s “Gospel of Hope” that serves as the thematic thread uniting Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times. The song begins with Choi admitting, “I’m not a religious man, but I can understand religion.” As he traces his paternal family’s history leaving South Korea and then more of the stories on his maternal side, his tone starts to shift. With each verse he sings, he seems to accept how much faith helped guide them through their journeys. By the end of the three-minute gospel, Choi reconciles, “I don’t know if I’m a religious man / but sometimes I still catch myself singing, ‘Hallelujah!’”
Musically, Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times features both traditional piano (the opening “Deliverance” and “Bethesda”), as well as keyboards (“Superkamiokande”), organs (“Gospel of Hope”), and synths (“Teenage Eyes,” which is — in the best way — what Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” would sound like if written by a queer, rebellious child of immigrants who also happens to have a Ph.D. in philosophy). But the most impressive element of the record is Choi’s wild vocal control. His forceful tenor has grit and range, capable of unexpected vocal jumps and melismas worthy of Mariah Carey. With his speak-singing delivery carrying both powerful melodies and narratives, Choi himself delivers a hopeful record for anyone struggling to find meaning in these tumultuous times.