Santigold – 99 Cents
By Graham Isaac
When Santi White burst on to international consciousness in 2008 as Santigold, with her debut record Santogold, it was both a breath of fresh air and a sign of musical movements already underway. That album’s deft and seemingly effortless melding of reggae, r & b, new wave and powerpop influences was only outdone by the confidence of songwriting. And while the record didn’t achieve the multi-platform top 40 successes that many critics and music fans wished upon it, it topped many best-of lists and holds up today. In the years following many producers, artists, and bands took similar approaches, so by the time Santigold released the much darker Master of My Make Believe in 2012, her genre-mixing approach still yielded powerful pop music, but was de rigeur of the day. As such, certain touches, such as the already-approaching played post-edm bass drops that showed up on “Fame” felt a bit cynical.
So when the long awaited follow up, this year’s 99 Cents, was announced as a “look at how plastic and pre-packaged our society is,” I feared a cash grab that would yield little of the inspiration found on the previous two records. Pre-album single “Radio” (not on the record) did little to dissuade me of this, being a competent, but fairly vacant single that didn’t hit the pop highs it clearly aspired to.
Fortunately, with 99 Cents, Santigold has delivered an album that is both instantly delightful and rewarding of repeated listens. Commentaries on disposable consumer culture tend to run one of two tired ways—either clichéd target practice at various shallow enemies, or an equally clichéd embrace of plasticity, in a kitschy celebration of meaninglessness. 99 Cents finds a middle path, at turns both breezy and examinative.
Album opener and lead single “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” is an arm-swinging feel good anthem. If you don’t feel good about yourself, you can at least feel good about Santigold and the twinkling beat she provides. “Who Be Lovin’ Me,” featuring iLoveMakkonen, is a casual hammock-lounge between on-again-off-again lovers that emphasizes the loving over the tension.
By large the first half of the record emphasizes a lighter approach, while the second half gets into some of the seamier sides of consumer culture. Highlight “Rendezvous Girl” plays like it could be about hookup culture or international espionage. . . or both. The slower, somber side we’ve seen from Santigold before on tracks like MOMMB’s “This Isn’t Our Parade” “show up again to good effect onon the piano-driven “Before the Fire” or the sparse “Outside the War.”
The net results have the feel of the first Santigold record with a more tweaked, beats-oriented approach. There are few of the guitars that characterized her flirtations with rock in the past, save for some smatterings including album closing new wave jam “Who I Thought You Were,” which moves forward at sing-along speed, a relief after the album’s moodier back half. With 99 Cents, Santigold has produced a record both danceable and broodable, without forcing either. Let’s hope it’s not another four years before the next one. – (8/10)
Santigold performs at Seattle’s Neptune Theater on Saturday, April 9. Tickets.