Friday, February 18, 2011

Record review: Santah - 'White Noise Bed'

Posted by Andrew

It’s difficult to review an album that’s already been out for the better part of a year. I’ve already read so much about it from other people’s perspectives, it’s hard to determine if what I want to write is my own opinion or a rehashing of other reviews. The Fighting Illini-formed Santah, who now base themselves in Chicago, seem to gradually be building a buzz throughout the Midwest since the release of their debut album White Noise Bed back in early May of 2010. Amongst all the reviews, comments and RIYL namedrops, I’m here, belatedly, to offer a few of my own.

The track likely to catch your ears first is "No Other Women." The interplay between vocals and instruments in ¾ timing and highly reverberated guitar recalls many west-coast outfits, from the sunny Morning Benders to the percussive Local Natives to the folky Fleet Foxes. These comparisons illuminate the idea that music in general is continually evolving geographically. Wilco and My Morning Jacket are two other comparisons I have come across, and the Midwestern alt-country tag fits…sometimes. To pigeonhole Santah like that would be to ignore the glimpses of early '00s Brit-Pop. In fact, the most unnerving thing about this album to me was during the cathartic closing of "When I Couldn’t Move," where Stan’s falsetto breaches Chris Martin territory; it’s almost enough to make me want to give Parachutes another chance. Album closer "Neighbors and Cousins (Are We Lovers)" juxtaposes confused feelings with an upbeat piano and playful bassline that wouldn’t sound out of place on the Flaming Lips’ psychedelic and underrated Clouds Taste Metallic.

Much of the criticism of the album deals with the unintelligibility of leadman Stan McConnell’s vocals and that this is not a lyrics album. Some justified that it was almost the point to have the vocals act as just one of the other instruments, but I feel this is a misstep. One of the things the band is often hailed for is the humanity of their recordings, with little to no studio tomfoolery. Naturally, this follows suit in the honesty of their lyrics, which admittedly, can be difficult to make out at times. But those who are persistent in their listening will come across clever gems such as "I gave my rights up, I fucked her...whole world up" from the track "Cold Wave." Stan waxes literary on "Irish Wristwatch" with “Once is not enough to know to read what we wrote, you'll need every footnote.” Which I’m deciding to loosely translate as ‘listen to this album over and over and over." Sold.

Overall, Santah released a fantastic album that proves me wrong in my assertion that nothing worthwhile happens outside of the city limits. Now setting up base in Chicago, the band is looking to make a bigger splash nationally. They are heading to SXSW next month, bookended by dates around the Midwest. Before then, you can catch them this Sunday the 20th at Saki Records for a 4 p.m. performance opening for California Wives and again on March 9th at Schubas. In the meantime, listen to Stan McConnell play a couple solo tracks and discuss the band’s future on Indiesomnia’s Green Room Sessions recorded late last year. White Noise Bed is currently streaming in its entirety up on bandcamp.


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