May 8, 2008
8 / 10
If Santogold was any more ‘of the moment’, she’d be sat in your lap, reading this out loud to you. Through a mix of furious networking and artistic fearlessness, the former Santi White has become a totemic figure for the current crop of genre-bending acts currently blowing raspberries at the parameters of pop. During her short career as Santogold, she’s collaborated with some of the producers at the frontline of 21st century music, from Timbaland via futurestep visionary FreQ Nasty to Mark Ronson. By sheer dint of these associations, she’d been mentioned in the same breath as MIA, James Murphy and Crystal Castles even before unleashing her first single.
The four tracks to be found on her MySpace page last year showed an artist in transition, embracing everything from planet-bashing baille funk to ‘Parallel Lines’-tipping new wave. The eclecticism that has served her so well on paper however left some doubting her ability to make a cohesive album. She reacted in a recent interview, warning against the dated thinking that dictates all songs on an album should sound the same. “Everyone’s over it,” she surmised.
Before she was Santogold, the 32-year-old was a music biz veteran. For a time she was an A&R for the ‘urban’ department of Epic Records, a pop songwriter for hire (Lily Allen, Ashlee Simpson), the leader of ska revival band Stiffed, and an MC for Spank Rock. All these musical personae come into play one way or another on ‘Santogold’, which, yes, stylistically veers wildly from track to track, but no, doesn’t forget its duty to cohere for the listener.
It begins with ‘LES Artistes’ – the peerless clarion call which was one of NME’s Tracks Of The Year in 2007. A mission statement written following the death of her father in Philadelphia and White’s Madonna-like escape to New York’s Lower East Side artistic hub, its precise, Nick Zinner-like guitar lines perfectly complement White’s vocals, which oscillate gorgeously between hopelessness and resolve. She sings about the need to annihilate Santi White and clothe herself in an all-encompassing chrysalis of creativity out of which she will emerge, butterfly-like, as Santogold. It’s a vision which pours out from her debut. The ‘Arular’-like bombast of the FreQ Nasty-produced ‘Creator’ hits with a squidgy mix of undulating high-frequency synths, as Santi’s jittery multi-tracked vocals lay over the top, while a lazy, Brooklyn-heatwave ska drumbeat anchors the Spank Rock-featuring ‘Shove It’. With similar niche-nicking, the Diplo-produced ‘Unstoppable’ mixes Laurie Anderson-style robotics with a coldly affecting Sly & Robbie beat.
The end result lollops along gloriously, like ‘Nightclubbing’-era Grace Jones. Meanwhile, echoing the new wave sighs of ‘LES Artistes’ there’s ‘Lights Out’, which harkens back to the sleek ’80s new wave of The Cars. Her hit rate on genre-splitting is not always successful. The twitchy electro-stomp of ‘My Superman’ aims for Gary Numan territory but ends up sounding like a ‘Strict Machine’-era Goldfrapp, while the willowy ‘Anne’ fades into the background compared to her more vital sonic experiments. Nevertheless, ‘Santogold’ is a vivid statement of intent. An eclectic album for Right Now, which shows what it means to be a modern pop star, and reveals a glittery crazy-paved path towards a brave new musical future.
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