WHEN SANTI WHITE first exploded onto the music scene in 2008 as an independent artist, her success seemed anything but assured. She was a black woman making music that didn’t fall neatly within the confines of hip-hop, soul, or R&B. Instead, she courted a new-wave, left-field sound that flirted with alt-rock at pivotal moments, a sonic realm long monopolized by white artists. Not the easiest territory to navigate. Against these odds, Santogold, her eponymous debut album (at the time) succeeded with flying colors, and continues to do so today, owing its enduring appeal to White’s eclectic influences and a near-absence of throwaway tracks. In 2008, White had successfully claimed her territory on the alt side of the tracks and proven her credibility.
She struck a second decisive blow four years later with sophomore follow-up Master of My Make-Believe, a darker trip into her psyche, led by superb single “Disparate Youth”. It would be four years before she would release her third and latest installment, 99¢. Taking a hint from “Radio”, White’s 2015 one-off for the Paper Towns soundtrack, 99¢ finds White stepping out into the light once again, albeit while professing some sort of social commentary. In truth, this message gets lost amidst the rising and falling action present throughout 99¢, as White navigates sonic highs and lows and a myriad of contrasting influences.
Sunshine, happy-go-lucky pop is the name of the game on lead single “Can’t Get Enough of Myself”, a diurnal jig replete with handclaps and long, rolling ooh-oohs. “Chasing Shadows” and “All I Got” slow things down with their reggae influences and sing-along codas, respectively, each slathering on a tropical, saccharine sweetness like thick molasses. “Rendezvous Girl” and “Who I Thought You Were” pick up the pace with elements of new wave and surf rock, showcasing some of White’s best chameleonic tendencies. However, the undisputed highlight of 99¢ comes in the form of “Banshee”, a Grimes-esque cavalcade of electronic chirps, synchronized claps, and siren shouts that find White at her most incandescent, and probably the closest she’s ever come to a proper party song.
Sadly, the adrenaline rush on “Banshee” is hardly uniform across the rest of 99¢. Many of the slower tracks veer into dirge territory, especially “Walking In A Circle”, which is reminiscent of a fever nightmare with trap beats in the background. “Outside the War” follows a similar pattern, while “Before The Fire” and “Run The Races” manage to redeem themselves with some novel vocal tricks and grand outros. It is this languorous atmosphere provides the perfect backdrop for ILoveMakonnen to make an appearance, and on “Who Be Lovin’ Me” he and White trade bars and refrains over an unapologetically drowsy melody.
So while 99¢ manages to find its footing at a number of points, it never manages to prop itself up as a whole. For every “Banshee” there is a “Walking In A Circle”, or a middling track that sends White and her supposed message back to square one. The criticisms of consumerism promised in pre-release interviews and made explicit through the album cover don’t really show through the constant cycling between up and down, and to listen for them exclusively would ruin many of the simple pleasures present on the album. As Santigold, White may not succeed in providing fodder for deeper conversations, but she certainly proves for the third time in a row that she has the chops to claim a niche in the indie landscape, at the very least as an omnivorous consumer of musical influences who provides a welcome variety and dash of color to a genre that suffers perennially from indistinguishable uniformity. That alone makes her efforts worth much more than 99¢. B MINUS