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Music Review: Santogold, “Santogold” (Downtown/Atlantic)

George Lang Published: April 29, 2008

Rating: 86

Long-awaited yet still meeting outsized expectations, Santogold’s self-titled debut is a grand reunification of pop music. Santi White and her former Stiffed bandmate John Hill stitch together various strains of New Wave, electronica, world beat, hip-hop and jazz without the resulting stew sounding like a self-conscious art project. Thanks to White and Hill emphasizing good songs over sonic excess, “Santogold” is a prime piece of future pop mercifully free of future shock.

Beginning with the single “L.E.S. Artistes,” an exuberant urban alienation anthem, White is specializing in smart, inclusive sunsplashes of sound. The propulsive ska rhythms of “You’ll Find a Way” and the Trenchtown rock on “Shove It” recall late-’70s British ska rather than the mid-’90s American strain, and White sings these rave-ups with a confident, bright soprano. Imagine Gwen Stefani if she had not transformed into a plastic pop monster. 

White’s latest incarnation in Santogold makes her seem like the great new hope of multi-hyphenate alternative pop, an heir to M.I.A. But while songs such as “Creator” and “Unstoppable” embrace M.I.A.’s pan-ethnic dance aesthetic (and were produced by M.I.A. helmers Switch and Diplo, respectively) she is no knockoff. The beautiful ballad “I’m a Lady,” and the jazzy slow-burner “My Superman” display a rare talent for bringing the segregated neighborhoods of pop music together, making Santogold a truly valuable commodity.