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Santogold – Santogold

on June 16, 2008, 3:52pm
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The last several years have seen the revival of new wave and electro rock in the mainstream music world, particularly in the indie rock department. This movement started out with promising bands coming to the forefront, such as the Kaiser Chiefs, Franz Ferdinand, The Killers, and others. There are few artists that have stood out with truly unique attempts to expand outside the accepted confines of this genre. But as of late, at least to this writer, this type of music has become overplayed, bland, and stale.

Portishead’s return this year, as expected, redefined the expectations and sent bands and record labels scrambling to try and match Beth Gibbons and Geoff Barrow’s latest triumph. The debut, self-titled release from Santogold, the musical alias for American singer/songwriter/producer extraordinaire Santi White, appears to be the first attempt that we can measure against the “new bar” of success. So how does she do?

Unfortunately, I’m not terribly impressed. Santogold kicks off with “L.E.S. Artistes”, and we get the first exposure to White’s Nelly Furtado-like vocals (with a lot more emotion) and a charming blend of electro rock and trip-hop. But after that, the rest of the album is nothing more than the same hook (or verse (or chorus—take your pick)) repeated again and again for three minutes straight. Following the wonderful (by comparison) first track, I’m not sure if Santi forgot that a basic song structure requires a verse, chorus, and bridge. And if she’s not following a basic song structure—then at least be creative with the music. Even if her whole thing is repeating the same thing over and over again in the span of three minutes, it’s almost a necessity to make some sort of musical variations or changes to the track otherwise.

I don’t listen to much electronic or techno music, so someone will have to notify me if this almost-boring repetition is native to that sort of music. But my guess is that White is not trying to fall under that umbrella. Initially, I was able to ignore the repetition, but by the time I reached the halfway mark of the album I couldn’t take it anymore and found myself skipping everything. I literally had to skip through over 70% of the album because of this burden.

The biggest disappointment, by far, is the track that most people will probably recognize from the Bud Light commercials, “Lights Out”. The problem here is that the album version is like the rest of the songs on the record—repetitive, unvarying, one hook/chorus/verse repeated over and over again. And on the commercial? Bud Light gets a snazzy remix that features a chorus, more instrumentation, and even a bridge! (I think). When I heard the song on the album for the first time, I kept waiting and waiting for the chorus…and it never came!

To understand how I felt–imagine, if you will, Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” not featuring any of the  choruses (“with the lights out, it’s less dangerous”) that follow after  the bridges (“Hello, Hello, Hello…”) and instead the song just goes straight into the next verse after the bridge. Or even worse, the first verse is repeated. Then one day, as you’re flipping through the TV, you hear the song with the full “With the lights out” chorus. That’s essentially what has been done (or not done) to “Lights Out” (no pun or eerie coincidence intended by similar song title/lyric).

Heavy Portishead influence shows throughout the album, and on a few of the rock-influenced songs Santi proves herself to be more than capable on the boards. On these tracks, such as “Lights Out” and “I’m A Lady”, her production work gives off a huge Pixies/Breeders-vibe. And despite being one of the numerous tracks that falls victim to excessive repetition, the production tricks on “Creator” accomplished by UK breakbeat expert Freq Nasty and MIA’s producer Switch are unprecedented. However, the fade outs on some of the tracks feel forced and out of place.

Santogold comes into the music industry with a lot of potential, but ultimately falls short—way short—on her first effort. Tracks like “L.E.S. Artistes” and the “Lights Out” remix show she has the tools to become a powerhouse, but the rest of the album proves she’s not there yet—not even close. I am not familiar with the work she did with her old punk/ska band Stiffed, but if it’s anything as bland and repetitive as what she puts out here, then she has a long way to go.

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