In 2002, The Thin White Duke predicted that “music itself is going to become like running water or electricity.”
Well, the son of a bitch was right.
In 2016, Santigold vacuum-seals herself into the cover of her third record, 99¢, to protest and support that very same point: music—much like the water from our faucets and the light from our reading lamps—is now taken for granted as a cheap, free-flowing commodity that’s consumed without much respect for its creators, thanks to streaming services such as Spotify (which even manage to rope in the very artists they hurt).
The good news is that this slow and painful paradigm shift hasn’t discouraged the visionary artist from serenading us with some of her greatest ideas to date.
Though more introverted than 2012’s muscular Master of My Make-Believe, 99¢ is still rife with eclectic pop gold, and it’s mostly worth the standard four-year wait between the Philadelphia native’s records.
Disguised as a catchy ‘60s beach pop gem, opener “Can’t Get Enough of Myself” is a sarcastic swipe at selfie culture, while the dub-influenced “Big Boss Big Time Business” is a Niagara Falls-sized rush with its use of space, chiming guitars, lyrical repetition, and Santigold’s high-pitched, pipe-like chirps.
Warning: the optimistic tropicalia of “Banshee” will suck on your brain cells and refuse to let go for days. The hand claps, percussion, and keyboard flares that sound like little fireworks perfectly complement happy-go-lucky lines such as “Let me play with fire tonight” and “Rip it up, I’m having a good time.”
The rest of 99¢, however, is a mostly subdued affair that shuffles along under much darker skies.
The lights start to dim with the single “Chasing Shadows,” which features Santigold’s rapid, monotone rapping, and a stomping “Hard Knock Life”-inspired beat.
Then, after a quick trip back to the ’80s with “Rendezvous Girl,” the mezzo-soprano showcases some of her most soulful, downtrodden vocals on the haunting “Before the Fire.” (A gently repeated “sometimes”—delivered like a despondent Mae West—inflates the track’s sense of isolation.) And you can easily picture her kicking a stone down an alleyway on “All I Got,” rejected yet defiant as she nonchalantly sings “Don’t take this personal: go to hell.”
Slow burners like the melancholy/victorious “Run the Races,” the bleak and futuristic “Walking in Circles,” and the playfully creepy “Outside the War” are all pretty solid, but you’d be hard pressed to call them highlights.
The only track I’d chuck is the drowsy, iLoveMakonnen-led “Who Be Lovin’ Me.” At the very least, you should listen to it once for Santigold’s song-saving verse, which comes with the classic boast, “Can say ‘I’m the shit’ in 20 languages.’”
Wading through these thicker songs is worth it, though, because eventually you come face to smiling face with “Who I Thought You Were,” a super-caffeinated, ultra-sunny kiss-off to two-faced friends. It’s one hell of a mic drop.
Though it was released at the tail end of a frigid east coast February, 99¢ is best experienced in the blossoming landscape of spring, no matter the color of your skies. So roll down your car windows, push play (and the gas pedal), and see how long you can go until you get enough of Santigold. (Or at least until you’re lured to Target to pick up your weekly load of truly disposable junk you didn’t know you needed.)
Released: February 26, 2016
Label: Atlantic Records