As a former major-label A&R scout, the background talent behind alt-soul singer Res, and frontwoman for Philly pop punks Stiffed, Santi White — now reborn as Brooklyn’s Santogold — comes on like the experienced “newcomer” that she is. “I want to get up out of my skin,” she declares on opener “L.E.S. Artistes” over clicking Cars guitars, and admits, “I pay for what’s called eccentricity and my will to evolve” over the ghostly post-punk dub of “Shove It.” You’d have to go back to Grace Jones in the early ’80s to find an African-American woman who comes on this strong with avant-garde club funk and weird rock shit.
Like Jones, White bypasses R&B’s body-centric testimonies of emotion. Instead, she sings from the head, as if summoning up an interior alternative to an outside world that marginalizes, fetishizes, and otherwise criminalizes its native aliens. Appeasing her inner freak while summoning the hooks to go pop, this well-connected genre-bender transmits the results in multiple soundclash mutations produced by such of-the-moment beatmakers as M.I.A.’s Switch and Diplo. Combining new wave, ska, dub, grime, Baltimore club, and hip-hop in an ear-warping wash of 21st-century psychedelia, Santogold takes listeners on a trip to a hidden black America, where White acts as tour guide through the alleyways of her mind and undoubtedly excellent iPod.