First listening to Santigold (or Santogold, as she was known back then) it was a real breath of fresh air. It was dancefloor pop from the Lower East Side (“L.E.S. Artistes”); it was a woman stating her claim to the world (“I’m a Lady”); it was sexy (“Starstruck”). It was 4 years later that she delivered the somewhat-underwhelming Master of My Make Believe, and now another 4 years after that, we have 99¢.
The sentiment behind the album doesn’t seem like anything too new: it’s focused on how Western society and culture is geared towards selling a product, the product usually being one’s self. The album’s cover is done by Japanese photographer Haruhiko Kawaguchi and features her vacuum sealed along with bits of her life, on sale for -of course – 99¢. It’s almost metaphorical for how there are times when the album simply feels packaged.
The album starts out strong, super-strong actually, with the pure pop-genius of: “I Can’t Get Enough of Myself”. I find myself asking how the hell this song hasn’t already been beaten to death from radio play. The whistles, the wonky synths, her voice belting out an acceptance and declaration of unabashed narcissism; It’s enough to make you want to take an un-ironic selfie. This being the first track, it leaves the listener anticipating a slew of off-the-beaten-path pop hits. Sadly, the songs are not quite there.
Working with a laundry list of celebrity producers (including Justin Raisen from Charli XCX, Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, Zeds Dead) there are times where the album’s sound isn’t cohesive enough to be just one thing. It allows for some, at-times-successful genre hopping, but still feels like it’s playing it safe.
Sometimes it feels like she’s recycling old ideas, to mixed results. “Rendezvous Girl”’s synth line feels a bit likeMoMMB’s “Disparate Youth” but proves to be one of the album’s high points. When it happens on “Outside the War”, with it’s “Starstruck”-like beat, it just misses the mark.
That’s not to say there’s nothing to like on 99¢. Her Zed’s Dead-produced duet with ILOVEMAKONNEN, “Who Be Lovin’ Me”, has her following his slightly off-kilter melody to terrific results. “Chasing Shadows”, with it’s pitter-patter piano (produced by ex-Vampire Weekend Rostam Batmanglij) has her lamenting the sometimes frustrating life of an artist, especially a successful one. “All I Got” and “Who I Thought You Were” are as great as kiss-off songs can be, but they don’t really save the album from its lower points. The songs themselves are well crafted, and have Santigold being honest with herself and her audience, but they just don’t hit you the way the way they ought to. If it’s any consolation to someone as talented as her, the failures are all noble.
99¢ is a considerable effort by an artist who hasn’t really garnered mainstream attention but has managed to put out material that blows most basic pop queens right out of the water. This being her third album in 8 years, it leaves you wondering when we’ll hear something truly groundbreaking from her again.
review by Graham Caldwell