Imagine me, some o’clock AM, trudging through the dregs of YouTube until I land on this video. The dude, probably out of his head, is just grooving away on the hillside, minding his own business as more and more dancers join in. And who’s out there unstoppably rocking the stage? None other than Santigold.
As much as I’d like to consider myself a well-balanced music consumer, I prefer to feed my ears a lot of big dumb noisy rock music. Santogold (the then self-titled debut album) was a horizon-broadening record for me. Its authentic artistry and creativity, along with its sticky hooks and rock-ish tendencies, secured its spot in my music library.
Just as I was getting into Santigold, she was releasing her second album, Master Of My Make-Believe. I was impressed by the synth-poppy single “The Keepers”, and despite drifting away from guitar-centric tracks, the album won me over with its melancholy deep-cuts like “This Isn’t Our Parade” and “God From The Machine”. So I prefer the self-titled, but this is still a mighty fine album.
A few years later, Santigold dropped the single “Chasing Shadows” ahead of the following record, 99 Cents. At the time, for whatever reason, it didn’t really stick with me. I checked out a few other tracks, but I wound-up never actually listening to the whole album (although I plan to go back and do so in the near future).
So imagine me, in miserable May, clicking on a new track from Santigold with more-or-less no expectations, then hearing “High Priestess”. I was positively zapped with anticipation for this new album!
I love the uptempo and heavy beat with its blended live and electric drums that give it a Death Grips kind of vibe. All the stops and fills are so slick and sick. The hook is ear-candy. The spooky synths nail the aesthetic of the album art. It’s hardly over three minutes and packed to the brim with interesting little details. I could listen to this 100 more times and still not uncover all its ‘secrets’.
Second single “Nothing” served only to amplify my anticipation for the album. The production is round and floaty, and it’s got some really rad synth leads and bass lines. I dig the cavernous space left in the arrangement on the verses. I get chills when she sings ‘Won’t you tell me what you mean, yeah‘. The vocal performance on this track is top-notch.
The album dropped a couple weeks ago. Knowing the singles, the album title, and the cover art, I had my hopes up for more of the witchy vibes on “High Priestess” and the moody feels of “Nothing”. After listening to it again and again, it’s slightly more of a mixed-bag than I was hoping for.
“My Horror” kicks off the record with watery guitar strumming and some lovely falsetto vocals. There are moments where the vocal harmonies and tropical, dubby productions remind me of something off a Panda Bear album. The cheerful melody clashing against the refrain ‘Me and my horror/Just a day in my horror‘ has this psychotic, demented feeling about it that’s really cool.
Track number four, “Ushers Of The New World”, is the first track that seems to just miss reaching the highs of the tracks before it. While not a bad song by any means, the reggae groove is chill and descending melody on the the hook ‘Your time is up/You see we coming‘ is fun too… but it feels the tiniest bit uninspired compared to the first three.
I feel mostly the same way about “No Paradise” and “Ain’t Ready”. The former is one of the longest songs on an album with our modern attention span in mind. It’s got some cool parts, though. The bridge has these chanted group vocals that feels like something M.I.A. might go for, and there’s the faintest trace of a Fela Kuti style guitar riff buzzing around the outro. That said, due to its mostly unmoving melodic center, the song kinda suffers from the extra runtime.
Similarly, “Ain’t Ready” has a melodic center that hangs around the same area for just a little too long. It could’ve perhaps benefited from a touch of the brevity found on many of the other tracks on the album. And there’s a sample panned hard right that sounds just like the duck from my timer on my iPhone. It always tricks me into thinking I’m about to be late for something.
Another track that didn’t quite land with me was “Shake”. It’s got a sort of gospel meets soul/funk stride coursing through its veins. The groovy keys riff is like something Stevie Wonder would be excited to play. Not that the song is bad at all, but it’s probably the biggest departure vibe-wise on the album.
“The Lasty”, cleverly not the closing track on the album, re-enters that melancholy space from “Nothing”. Perhaps even darker with lines like ‘Mother said, looking at the sky/Who will the last be?/One by one, I watched them die/I said don’t ask me‘. Then on the production side, there’re these cool pitch-shifted vocals after the hook that remind me of Crystal Castles or Purity Ring.
Another track with some really cool production is “Witness”. It’s got this synthetic bells/chimes loop with a healthy dose of reverb that sounds absolutely magical! The slightly auto-tuned vocals and massive 808’s remind me a bit of what some newer artists like 070 Shake are doing. I also really like how the sections are fragmented and almost unpredictable. Santigold actively flexes her strength in pop and experimental song structures on this album!
A track cleverly titled “Fall First” closes out the album. It feels like a callback to the rock vibes from the Santogold self-titled. Hell, the bass line would be at home on any number of post-punk band’s songs. The noisy drums also tie back nicely to the percussion on “High Priestess”. I love the low pitch-shifted guitar on the outro, too. I wish it had been featured more prominently during the track.
With ten tracks clocking in at a droplet over half an hour, it’s Santigold‘s shortest LP to date. The music videos are even shortened. And yeah, perhaps it’s more of a mixed bag than I would’ve liked. Many of the songs on the second half of the record are ever so slightly underwhelming. Still, there’s nothing bad on this album; rather, it’s just that certain sonic and emotional highs hit so hard that the more subtle cuts don’t get in quite deep enough.