Born in lockdown, Santi White’s latest project is both old and new at the same time, drawing on the human spirit, but using cutting edge electronics to do it
The word ‘multimedia’ conjures visions of the 1990s, when the world was getting to grips with how to manufacture a CD that worked in a computer.
For Santigold, however, it is the most accurate description of where she is as a creator. ‘Artist’ would be too weak a word, for her fourth album Spirituals is just part of a project launching enterprises in the fields of music, video, podcasting, skincare and even a new brand of tea. Because of this, a review of Spirituals feels like only part of a much bigger story – and yet the music still clearly drives everything she does, bursting with life, creativity and resolve.
The resolve comes from a dark place many creative minds could identify with, as to get the inspiration for Spirituals, Santi had to visit some dark places. As lockdown descended in 2020 she had to deploy full responsibility as a mother at the expense of everything else. Any and all artistic instincts and tendencies retreated completely. Alarmed at this change, she set about recording a new album, made with a full guest list of online contributors in similar situations, ready and willing to collaborate.
The floodgates opened, and as her lyrical inspiration returned, Spirituals was born. Its title – more 1970s Alice Coltrane than 2020s new pop – is nonetheless wholly appropriate, given an overwhelming need for solace in the wake of social and racial injustice in America. California, where Santi lives, was burning, and a sense of the fierce heat is found in some of the textures she uses.
Recorded with a heaving guest list during the 2020 lockdowns, Spirituals is nonetheless a concise and at times minimal piece of work. It is a highly stimulating listen, showing all the pop sensibilities from previous exploits yet showing more willingness to go down new avenues. It is to her immense credit that the music never loses its identity, in spite of the 14 collaborative forces employed.
All around there are meaningful signs of the struggle undertaken before recording. The first song to be written, High Priestess, holds impressive inner strength as Santigold digs deep, drawing on her experiences to look forward. It may have been cultivated with the help of Boys Noize and perfected with a selection of other collaborators, but the music could only be hers, with those distinctive vocal tones. It fulfils her wish to make future punk rock.
If anything, Ain’t Ready goes deeper, its rhythm borne from the earth itself. A collaboration with Illangelo, then later Dre Skull and SBTRKT, it finds the protagonist gritting her teeth. The second part of the chorus strips her feelings bare: “Oh, it come in hard, kick in one side of your heart, What a blow, no, it won’t stop, So I take my time, now, getting back up, taking the reins”. The music follows suit.
Witness is a magnificent track, soaked in heat while drawing again on that resolve. No Paradise adopts a similar profile, using its propulsive rhythms and singalong chorus to coax out more power. Fall First has the sort of elastic bass sound Peter Hook would have loved to use, coming in close for the chorus vocal but panning back to distorted recollections.
Not all of the tracks are wholly successful, and on occasion the vocal clarity is hidden from view. Yet that barely matters, for the fierce spirit remains. Spirituals is both old and new at the same time – drawing on the human spirit, but using cutting edge electronics to do it. Playing to Santigold’s strengths through inventive beats and melodies, it is a fine return, and deserves to do well.