Every CD stands as both a piece of music and a piece of culture. Critics listen for sonic innovations and search for an artistic personality that's a bold departure or gives voice to larger cultural trends. The greatest albums make an impact on sound and society.
Santi White and her band Santogold are making cultural waves for one simple reason: White challenges the racial status quo of pop music.
She's a young black woman, born in Philadelphia and now living in Brooklyn, and she's fronting a band that doesn't play soul or urban R&B. They play new wave/synth pop reminiscent of Missing Persons circa 1982.
The echo of Missing Persons is especially noticeable on "L.E.S. Artistes," where White's vocals recall Dale Bozzio wondering, "What are words for, when no one listens anymore?" The mellow guitar and percussion lines in this song are suspended by a synth drone that gives the catchy riffs an ethereal feel.
Santogold makes some sonic innovations here, too. The album adds dub to the new wave/synth mix, injecting the old '80s formula with a 21st-century multicultural vibe. On "Unstoppable," a percussion beat that sounds like a bongo is remixed and looped as the swelling synthesizer brings the track to a tense crescendo.
Yes, Santogold has touched on all the ingredients that make for a great album, and this is surely one of 2008's best.