Thursday, June 12, 2008


A lot was made in the press about Death Cab for Cutie’s ability to grow over several years, both in popularity and musicianship, something that seems to be impossible in the current overblogged era. While this may be true, one benefit has been more fully formed debuts. In fact, my top CDs this year have all been from first-timers: Vampire Weekend, Lykke Li, Tokyo Police Club and Adele. Now add Santogold and her brilliant self-titled CD to the list.
     Technically, however, she isn’t a new artist; for the early part of this decade, she fronted Stiffed, a little-known punk/ska band from Philadelphia that put out two independently produced albums. Nor is Santogold — real name Santi White — as ridiculously young as the others; she’s in her 30s and spent most of her career as an A&R rep for Epic Records.
     So, lyrically, Santogold (the record) is a tale of survival and the need to perform at all cost. “I’ve got to be unstoppable,” she sings on the pulsing “Unstoppable,” while the at-first-annoying “Creator” is equally direct: “Me, I’m a creator / Thrill is to make it up / Me, I'm a taker / Know what the stakes are.” (Hear “Creator” on JeffMix2008.02.29.)
     It’s the music, though, that’s the real treat: songs that bounce from genre to genre, first punk, then reggae, then new wave, then indie rock (and house too!). She didn’t skimp on producers either: Diplo, Spank Rock, Steel Pulse, Switch, Trouble Andrew, and M.I.A. all collaborate.
     It’s that last one that’s caused Santogold some heat, as some have dubbed her eclectic, beat-heavy sound “M.I.A.-lite.” It’s too simple a comparison, and borderline racist. If anything, this is the record I wanted to hear from M.I.A. instead of last year’s Kala, an album more devoted to grooves and experimentation. Santogold, on the other hand, is not afraid to be the pop star she seems destined to become. Unstoppable. A-

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