Andrew Choi is one of the most unique and powerful singer-songwriters working right now, and Ten Songs of Worship and Praise for Our Tumultuous Times is the proof. Choi’s fourth album as St. Lenox is at turns lush and raw, with gorgeous and impressionistic instrumentation orbiting around his forceful, intense vocals and the autofictional words that they carry. This is music struck with the uncertainty and passion of faith—an album about religion, belief, and locating the self amidst such weighty and intangible concepts. Just like life itself, there’s a lot to discover in these ten songs, providing plenty in terms of revelation.
Choi’s already established himself as a formidable presence through three albums of full-throated songcraft as St. Lenox: 2015’s debut Ten Songs About Memory and Hope, Ten Hymns from My American Gothic the following year, and Ten Fables of Young Ambition and Passionate Love in 2018—all while holding down a full-time gig at a Manhattan law firm. “The wisdom is that you have to choose between being an artist and being poor, or selling out for an office job and being starved of humanity,” he ruminates on his dual-career balance. “I’m working at trying to do both, and we’ll see how that goes.”
Worship and Praise is, as the title suggests, centered around religion and faith—but Choi stresses that this music is less about siding with political agendas many associate with religion and more about evoking the feeling of worship itself, right down to these ten songs’ instrumentation.
“I’m not particularly religious, but I grew up in a religious household,” he explains. “Even though I haven’t been actively involved in the church, I pay attention to what’s happening, and it’s weird seeing the turn it has taken over the years, from a distance. I understand why people have moved away from the church. But at the same time I also understand why people are religious. These songs are me dealing with religion, but not really in a critical or negative way, which is the tone that I think people too often take. Instead, I want the music to help people remember the hopeful feeling that I remembered, when I was growing up in the church. If that’s the starting point, then maybe people can see themselves being religious again. Maybe I can see myself being religious again. I’m not sure.”
Indeed, Choi’s perspective and sense of being beams through these ten tracks, which feature his strongest songwriting and vocals to date. The stories he tells and the emotions he expresses feel lived-in, but they also possess a bold honesty under the music’s melodic framework, exploring spirituality through a queer perspective that asks many questions in search of a greater truth.
The rollicking and heartfelt first single “Arthur is at a Shiva” sways as its multiple narratives practically tumble out of Choi’s voice, as he recalls a coworker’s experience attending a shiva as well as the funeral of a friend’s mother that he taught Sunday School with; “The Great Blue Heron” reflects on gay relationships and the notion of natural order, while the stunning centerpiece “What Is It Like to Have Children?” is a rumination on gay family life that also looks back beatifically on Choi’s upbringing, as he swings from pole to melodic pole over sparkling organ.
You don’t need to have lived the stories Choi tells to feel this music. This album is full of striking moments that sound like a high-wire act—that is, if the wire-walker possessed an incredible voice and were able to project his every word from hundreds of stories high. Listening to Ten Songs of Worship is an immediate experience, capturing your full attention in a generous and benevolent way that stays with you long after the last note plays.