ABOVE THE CURRENT
Starting hard, strong, and strange with a self-named, single-genre-free debut album in 2008, producer and vocalist Santigold has maintained a career in weaving poignant yet absurdist storytelling into a torrid tapestry of hip-hop, ska, punk, pop, reggae, dub, and disco. If you don’t know the slate of singles, mixtapes, and albums she’s released since that time, that’s partially your fault (laziness), partially her fault (she’s never been one to play the pop personality game), and partially due to the fact that younger artists such as Santi’s fellow-Philadelphian Tierra Whack have borrowed that genre-babbling sound and vision for their own work as of late.
With that, Santigold has developed her own label, Little Jerk, and its first release, Spirituals—which also marks her fourth full-length—proves to be a more deeply personal, even haunting work without eschewing her usual radically manic aesthetics. A mostly privately recorded pandemic album in the very best sense of the concept, Santigold fashioned Spirituals in Los Angeles in the bosom of her family and friendly collaborators. Rather than touch on the history of what “spirituals” could mean to generation after generation of African-Americans, she reaches into the power of deliverance, of prayer’s sense of ascension, of freedom.
Inspired by the idea of “getting Black people through the un-get-through-able,” moments such as “Ushers of the New World,” “Witness,” and the deceptively simple “Shake” are soulful, positive, and intimate without missing a beat when it comes to contagious melody and riveting rhythm. So too is opener “My Horror” uniquely melodic and poppy within the Santigold canon. Meanwhile, the passionately intoned closer “Fall First” finds the vocalist using her pipes in a rare, mighty form through a directly telegraphed melody line.
None of the more straight-ahead aspects of Spirituals signal the relaxing of her usual genre-jumbling format. “High Priestess” is fabulous, mess-in-a-dress kitchen-sink funk. Contributors such as Rostam, Boys Noize, Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner, and SBTRKT help to keep Santigold’s usually strange brew bubbling hot on a record as bold as any of her past albums and mixtapes. But with a patina of the personal to drive it forward, Spirituals is Santigold’s most mature, rich record—the work of a master.