Verdict: “99￠” bubbles with ecclectic euphoria enough to override its handful of blunders.
Santi White, AKA Santigold, AKA the artist behind those two songs “Disparate Youth” and “L.E.S Artistes” on your house party playlist, has never adhered to a single sound. Her influences range from dance to new wave to 80’s pop to post-punk (see: her first musical stint, Stiffed, a punk band out of Philly, her vocals crisp and young-sounding.) This mangle of vibes is obvious in her ever-mutating work. “99￠”, her third full length album, is jam packed with these influences, so much so that it’s like listening to twelve songs by different artists, cohesion be damned. Somehow it works. For the good songs, anyway.
The first four songs flow amazingly well, considering their different sounds. “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” is a bright and carefree self-love anthem that somehow manages to sound empowering rather than narcissistic, despite lyrics like “All I want to do is what I do well / Ain’t a gambler but, honey, I’d put money on myself / All I want to do is bottle it to sell / ‘Cause my brand of vainglory is much better for your health.” It flows into the heavy banging “Big Boss Big Time Business” with ease, then into “Banshee,” a shiny, plasticy track with an Afro-Latin edge. The chill groove “Chasing Shadows” follows, a decent track that derives much of its appeal from quick-tongued verses that highlight the quirk and charm of White’s voice. She’s not a great singer, but her vocals pop for their personality.
After “Shadows,” we hit the album’s low point, where the style mixing starts to rub the wrong way. We get a lot of plodding beats that blend together, some weird trappy sounds on “Walking in a Circle” and sluggish piano on “Before the Fire .” Not to mention ILOVEMAKONNEN’s awful feature on “Who Be Lovin Me,” a song I liked okay whenever he wasn’t singing but threatened to ruin the entire album every time he was. I can’t emphasize enough how horrified I am by his performance. Did anyone listen to the song? Did he send in his vocals via GoogleDocs after they’d already paid him? I almost stopped listening but someone who deserves a raise made the good choice to put the slamming “Rendezvous Girl” directly after it. Its driving beat and 80’s synth are some of the grooviest on the album, and it says something that it alone made me happy after the nausea onset by ILM.
The last few tracks pick “99￠” way back up, starting with the a-okay, reggae inspired “All I Got.” “Outside the War” is eery and brooding, sounds like it could accompany a haunting, again in a way that reflects White’s varied tastes but doesn’t fit as naturally within the mishmash as the earlier tracks. Spacious, airy “Run the Races” is a perfect lead into the final track, “Who I Thought You Were.” A great ending, fun, dancey, instantly hooky, and invoking that 80’s pop feel again to send us off on the strongest stuff. So in the end, despite its occasional fumbles into dopery, “99￠” won me over. It’s a satisfying and surprising listen, it’s “not your average pop album” (except really this time), with enough great tracks and wonky synths for me to forgive the missteps.