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Santogold: A Star Grows in Brooklyn

Santi White's strident debut finally justifies all those magazine spreads

If you haven't heard of Santogold by now, your hype machine is surely out of order. Since the tip-off of 2007, the 32-year-old Bed-Stuy resident, born Santi White, has toured with Björk, graced countless magazines in all her neon-leggings- with-frosted-jean-cutoffs-and-gold- door-knocker-earrings glory, and been hailed as the next M.I.A. Indeed, the two iconoclasts share more than a loud fashion sense: Santogold also calls Diplo and Switch her producers and makes genre-defying—or, rather, genre-blending—music.

With her eponymous debut's deft mix of dap, punk, rock, pop, house, reggae, and hip-hop, she won't completely live down associations with the famous Sri Lankan (whom she also counts as a friend), but the result emerges as much more than a mere imitation.

On "Creator"—with drums thumping, helium-tight vocals squealing, and Atari-like noises chirping—Santogold comes off as playfully braggadocious, making a declaration that defines the entire album: "Me, I'm a creator/Thrill is to make it up/The rules I break got me a place/Up on the radar." Though nearly every track is laced with the chopped-synth sounds you'd expect from her production crew (also including John Hill, Disco D, and FreQ Nasty), the star attraction incorporates an impressive musical know-how gained as frontwoman for the short-lived indie-punk band Stiffed. "Lights Out" and "I'm a Lady" channel the Pixies with a punk-pop sound fueled by spare guitar plucks, simple drum patterns, and lyrics delivered in a talk-sing stutter with random falsetto breaks; the reluctant love song "My Superman" ("Well, you're a liar and your cues are all wrong/But I can't count all the ways you woo me") and "Anne" go goth, with thick basslines burbling beneath the wobbly vocals and wolf howls.

But the music of the Philly native gets better as her influences get more muddled. She hits her stride in the hard-to-understand (due to gibberish lyrics and a faux West Indies accent) but impossible-not-to-move-to tracks like the single "L.E.S. Artistes" (which ironically lambastes downtown hipsters over a 1980s-meets-2000s mix of melodies), the island-bop feel of "Shove It," and "You'll Find a Way (Switch and Sinden Remix)." The latter is Santogold's biggest banger: Listening to the original sped-up ska version (track two) and then encountering the same song 10 tracks later with a completely different feel—the rock instrumentation stripped away in exchange for sexy beats building on each other and fusing to Santi's isolated vocals—proves that sometimes, hype happens for a reason.

 
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