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Santigold - I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions Music Album Reviews

The singer’s latest mixtape is soulful, summery, and without borders. Thanks in part to the production of Mixpak’s Dre Skull, Santigold commits to a careful interpolation of the dancehall sound.

The Gold Fire Sessions summons the ghosts of dancehall hits. Dub goes well with glossy pop but the combination sometimes resembles the island-inspired singles of more mainstream acts like Major Lazer and PARTYNEXTDOOR. The du jour familiarity of the music might make it seem that Santigold is pulling from a convenience store of readymade cool instead of offering an authentic upgrade on her long-simmering indie signature. But from the start of her career, all the way back to her 2000s Philly-based punk band Stiffed, dancehall, grime, and ska influences have always gilded Santigold’s releases. Santigold doesn’t sound like her peers, her peers probably sound like Santigold.

I Don’t Want: The Gold Fire Sessions was produced primarily by DJ and Mixpak founder Dre Skull, along with a few unreleased songs conceived with Ricky Blaze and Diplo. The project finds her totally self-possessed and exuding a playful freedom that preserves the bubbly tone of its predecessor, 2016’s 99¢, but plays with the swagger of a top shotta; Santigold is unimpressed by big men with fat pockets who believe she might be bought on “Coo Coo Coo” and she dabbles in timely political commentary by “Crashing Your Party.” She relishes her freedom, owns her own lane, and is unafraid to challenge existing expectations about who she is and what she does.

Santigold trades in the occasional soundsystem flourish to commit to a careful, non-traditional interpolation of the dancehall sound. “Wha’ You Feel Like” is just breezy enough to take the hot weather house party scene by storm, borrowing from Sister Nancy’s time-honored "Bam Bam" riddim, while “A Perfect Life” throws back to the ’80s nostalgia of Brat Pack-era pop soundtracks, and “I Don’t Want” is a trap slow-drag driven by a pitchy pop vocal derived from the intersection of soul singer Deniece Williams’ upper register circa “Free” and the nasal performance of Bernard Wright on 1981 funk classic “Haboglabotribin.” All along, Santigold leans into vocal experimentation to expand upon her singular artistic footprint.

There are, however, moments when her Gold Fire Sessions performance comes across like borrowed clothes; the florid chords of “Don’t Blame Me” favor Tory Lanez and Ozuna’s “Pa Mì” while the melodic flow of “Wha’ You Feel Like” recalls Rihanna’s “Bitch Better Have My Money.” Though endlessly fun throughout, Santi’s aesthetic visits the realm of Afro-Caribbean inspired pop typically dominated by the likes of Rihanna and Gwen Stefani, and occasionally riddled by controversy when major rap acts have borrowed from the riddim and patois of island culture to the point of caricature.

As if to preempt any comparison in mainstream pop—or perhaps to justify her own indifference to crashing the boards in search of megastar status—she utilizes the refrain of “I Don’t Want” to clarify the ethos behind her musical and stylistic ideals. No fast talkin’ millionaire, no regrets, no saying what she doesn’t mean:

Don’t want to be a fake
I don’t want to beg
I don’t want to be a waste
I don’t want to be a lie
It ain’t sincere if I hold it back

Her approach to a career in the music industry prioritizes cool and creative freedom as the more valuable commodities, above commercial success.

The Gold Fire Sessions combines Santigold’s musical past with a passion for spontaneous experimentation. It plays like a distillation of joy. “Crashing Your Party,” “A Perfect Life,” and the titular closing track dip into the sonic territory of Blondie, bhangra, and afrobeats to suggest that Santigold created The Gold Fire Sessions much like she created herself: without borders or rules or walls.

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