Santigold – 99 Cents

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Santigold – 99 Cents

Released February 26th, 2016 on Atlantic Records

Santigold – born Santi White in Philadelphia – is at a strangely awkward place in her career.  After wowing the indie-blog glitterati in 2008 with her debut Santogold, she followed it up four years later with Master Of My Make-Believe, a record that received more muted applause despite being a generally stronger album.  The trend continues on 99 Cents, an album that has been largely slept on by critics despite being the strongest recording of Santigold’s discography to date.

Part of the problem, perhaps, is that she’s no longer new and shiny.  It’s fairly obvious by now that the blogosphere – spearheaded by Hipster Indie Bible site Pitchfork – is enamored with artists when they’re new and exciting and ditches them as soon as they release follow-ups that build upon strengths in increments.  Santigold has fallen victim to that phenomenon; witness the number of outlets that have reviewed 99 Cents as “restrained”, “empty”, and “unambitious”.  This, to describe an album that playfully encompasses any number of styles without ever committing to a generic reading of genre.  Lead single “Can’t Get Enough Of Myself” bounces on a summer-breeze pop groove while “Big Boss Big Time Business” adds some solid weight to its Carribean bass-boom.  “Rendezvous Girl” switches things up for an Eighties-tinged New Wave-inspired rocker while “Who Be Lovin Me” (featuring ILoveMakonnen) puts her squarely in the ambient-shaded singalong world of modern hip hop.  99 Cents goes in a lot of directions at once, but it manages to strike the right path in those directions a lot more than it wanders off.  Only “Chasing Shadows” and “All I Got” come off as forgettable; the rest have their own individual character , one infused by the warm, sarcastic vision of their creator.

Santigold may no longer be the shiny hype-draw that blogs are looking for to draw readers in, but 99 Cents is an extremely solid record and Santi White is an artist who’s still willing to take risks and explore sounds.

And the rest…

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon

Jesu/Sun Kil Moon

01/22/2016 on Rough Trade

The combination sounds like a wild winner – post-rock masters of ambient dread and the Neil Young-inspired folkie without any lyrical filter whatsoever – until you realize that Jesu and Mark Kozelek is just Jesu and Mark Kozelek.  Every song is squalling chords dripping with fuzz that have Kozelek getting unhinged over top.  While it’s a nice effect in general, it gets exhausting in the long run.

Future

EVOL

02/06/2016 on Epic Records

Easily the best thing the Atlanta trap star has put out, EVOL shows a willingness to push forward both musically and lyrically.  “In Her Mouth” is the most hilariously over-the-top he’s ever gotten, and Weeknd-collab “Low Life” shows that crossover success is a when, not an if.

 

The Dirty Nil

Higher Power

02/26/2016 on Dine Alone Records

Ontario punk rock is a beast that keeps savaging everything in its path, year after year.  I first saw the Dirty Nil in a tiny bar backing the always-amazing Single Mothers and their debut LP is a welcome addition to the canon.  Treads a tightrope between crushing brutality and soaring sing-along.

Thug Entrancer

Arcology

03/04/2016 on Caroline Records

An inoffensive enough electronic record that is nonetheless too heavily indebted to Boards Of Canada to generate any thrills.

Anna Meredith 

Varmints

Once the composer-in-residence for the Scottish Symphony Orchestra, now crafting odd, off-kilter electronic songs that have a strangely chiptune bent to them.

Guerilla Toss

Eraser Stargazer

03/04/2016 on DFA Records

The Boston noise band takes junk shop sounds and welds them together in the backyard to create something willfully abrasive and strange.

Robert Pollard

Of Course You Are

03/04/2016 on Fire Records

Look, if you know anything about Robert Pollard, you know exactly what you’re getting from a Robert Pollard record, or a Boston Spaceships record, or a Ricked Wickey record, or (soon, again) a Guided By Voices record.  It’s guitar-driven British Invasion inspired stuff with a strong sense of melody and a lysergic tendency in the lyrics.

Esperanza Spalding

Emily’s D-Evolution

03/04/2016 on Concord Records

Artful, lyrical, and jazzy as all hell, like Janelle Monae and Joni Mitchell had a jazz baby and that jazz baby liked to blaze it.

Thao & The Get Down Stay Down

A Man Alive

03/04/2016 on Ribbon Music

Saved from being an exercise in tUnE-yArDs lite indie-clatter by the presence of a heavy, thumping bass that makes those speakers push more air than they have a right to.

The Coral

Distance Inbetween

03/04/2016 on Ignition Records

There was this band in the Nineties – The Tea Party – that really wanted to be Led Zeppelin (later Nine Inch Nails) with a singer who really wanted to be Jim Morrison.  The Coral, as a parallel, really wants to be Faust but the singer really wants to be Alex Turner.  Either way it’s hot garbage.

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Sun Kil Moon – “Benji”

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Mark Kozelek once did a musical guest spot on Nickelodeon’s Yo Gabba Gabba. Anyone who is even passingly familiar with his work will know what an odd pairing that is: a host of bouncy, kid- friendly synth or guitar-pop bands doing jaunty little numbers about friends or food vs. the sonorous, melodic drone of a Cohen-esque poet. It was something odd and jarring and I liked it all the more for that. His work has always flown just under the radar. As Red House Painters he achieved a brief notoriety in the indie press, and also for his album of acoustic AC/DC covers. As Sun Kil Moon he released a stellar debut that conjured up the stomping, stoned race of Neil Young, an acoustic set of Modest Mouse covers, and the supremely heartbreaking April before sort of falling off a bit into dense, though lyrical, folk drone. Benji, though, takes some of the fog off of that drone. On 2010’s Admiral Fell Promises I realized that I couldn’t really grasp on to what Kozelek was saying; it had become an impenetrable wall of words that sounded good but left me feeling slightly confused. That is not the case here; Kozelek is front and center with what he’s saying, at times intensely so. It’s as if he’s decided to make a confessional album, as opposed to an album that’s basically Andres Segovia with thick lyrics. Approaching 50 as he is, the confessions center mainly around mortality; opening track “Carissa” details the sudden death of his second cousin from a freak aerosol can accident, while “Pray for Newton” is his reaction to a fan letter asking him to send his condolences to the families of the victims of the Newton massacre. “Dogs” is a song about every girl he’s ever done something with, from the kiss he got as a five year old on up before throwing his hands wide and saying “Our early life shapes the types to whom we are drawn, it’s a complicated place, this planet we’re on”. “I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same” sprawls over ten minutes and is pretty much as advertised. “Richard Ramierz Died Today of Natural Causes” hits a meaner vibe, curling through with a dark tone that starts off with the title and goes on to grouse about all the indignations suffered by himself and others when the notorious serial killer was still on the loose. A friend suffers an aneurysm in front of him in “Micheline”. “Jim Wise” details an act of euthanasia and attempted suicide. To say death haunts the album would be underselling the issue; to say that it it full of the stark, arbitrary, possibly unfair things that keep you up at night as you grow older would be closer to the mark. Benji is uncomfortable because of the truths that are embedded in these steady tales, and in that it’s easily the pinnacle of his career.

It’s a strange old world, isn’t it?  You think you have someone pegged as a semi-successful folk singer with a career that’s probably not going to make it much further and then they release what might end up being one of the ten best records of the year.  Strange old world.

GRADE:  A

Standouts:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GBNdOTu2Wn0]

-“Carissa”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1fm25YRaZP0]

-“Dogs”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5dWBPsru-Y]

-“Pray For Newtown”

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UgaquGird4w]

-“Richard Ramirez Died Today Of Natural Causes”