Before you could even finish the seven minutes of the “Creator/L.E.S. Artistes” single that hit the net in October, Santi White, the one-woman force behind Santogold, was being picked as “The future of music, today” (by Rolling Stone) and was chosen to pen tracks for the new Ashlee Simpson album. (I haven’t heard it. Bad, I guess.) With all of the talk about how Internet hype is making greats out of mediocre bands (sorry, Tapes ‘n Tapes), it would be easy to write off Santogold off as another album by another artist who can’t live up to the hyperbolic press. That is, if Santogold weren’t an excellent album, the album most likely to be the soundtrack to your summer nights at the club this year.
Soon after the release of “Creator,” Santogold was also being hailed as the American answer to M.I.A. On the surface, the comparison makes sense: Both performers got their start in the Spank Rock clique, both dress like a box of crayons threw up on them, and both sing/rap their way around beats made by the same producers (Switch and Diplo). But where M.I.A. uses her platform as a pulpit to address the ills of western society and Third World desperation, Santogold is concerned with something different. Namely making a hook-heavy album that effortlessly meshes multiple musical styles and traditions.
The album begins with first single “L.E.S. Artistes,” a slow-burner that sounds like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs covering Blondie, and is a surefire college-radio hit. Album highlight “Shove It,” featuring a verse from Spank Rock, takes samples that sound like ’70s car chase pics and Willy Wonka’s flute and inserts them into a paced dub reggae that sounds vaguely like Mighty Diamonds’ “Pass the Kouchie.”
After the quick punk vamp-romp of “Say Aha” comes the aforementioned “Creator” and “Lights Out,” which sounds like a long-lost Pretenders B-side. Santi’s unwillingness to adhere to a genre, and commitment to only making great pop singles, proves to be Santogold’s greatest strength. None of the songs on Santogold make sense alone, but when you mix the glitchy dirge (“Starstruck”), Police-style new wave (“You’ll Find a Way”), women power-type bar ballad (“I’m a Lady”), and mournful Eurthymics-style love letter (“Anne”) together, they somehow make sense in the larger concept of the album.
Like M.I.A.’s debut, Santogold is likely to be a polarizing affair. Call Santi an indie-opportunist if you want (it’s hard not to after “Creator” hit that Bud Light commercial), but Santogold is sure to be one of the year’s best albums, with only one near-miss (“My Superman”), an album that may become unavoidable in coming weeks and months. Each repeated listen will yield a new favorite hook, a new favorite beat, and a new favorite anthem.