When I first heard “No Other Women” a few months back, I immediately turned my head up and thought of The Walkmen, an indie band who’s progression of subtle garage rock seldom gets recognized for their influence and ambitious production. Not to say I wasn’t impressed with the result of the song, it was just my impulse reaction. Like The Walkmen and many bands that follow this route, you have to do something really special in order to break out of a genre with a constantly fluid and changing definition. Stan McConnell’s vocal melodies reflect many influences, but throughout the band reflects similarities to others while maintaining their own personality. Santah’s debut record, White Noise Bed, produces a very charming reflection of a band who’s been on the lookout to be something more for quite some time.
“Irish Wristwatch” opens as a slow burner track, featuring the distortion filled intro and slow bass drum beat, immediately differs from what we’ve heard from the band in the past. A song that catches you off guard can be somewhat of a stunner opener for a band who’s issuing a debut album, but there isn’t another track that could’ve fit in the shoes the track wears. The elegant “No Other Women” brings the best of keyboardist Tom Trafton, mixing satisfying organ chords with a piano section that drives the chorus without overpowering the song. Individually, every instrument has something to say in its own right. Everyone has heard the phrase “the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts”, so while even as simple as the guitar chords in “Chips of Paint” clashing with the rapid bass line underneath, no part overshadows the other, creating a very balanced feel to the record.
Acoustically driven “When I Couldn’t Move” is a sheer standout, as McConnell croons “under her thumbs I squirm/willing away from her world/there was a time when I couldn’t move”, bringing a more sentimental feeling to a song expressing feelings of desperation and helplessness. The track segues discretely into “Merry Ann”, another slow tempo track, with graceful layering throughout. “Bat Suite” might be the best thing the band has ever done, with an absolutely irresistible bass melody that channels Spoon to a certain extent, but progresses into a boisterous and calamity of an everyone-do-what-you-do outro.
Before throwing this album on and listening to it for a while, there was part of me that assumed it would be another product of a music scene from the Champaign area, frequently mediocre and often overlooked. It’s a difficult part to block out of your mind to try to take an objective viewpoint, but Santah’s display of solid indie rock mixed with a blend of pleasant pop tracks makes the album something more than “just another debut” from a local band. Whether you think the rugged “Overgrown” stands out over the more upbeat “Cold Wave”, or their singles “No Other Women” or “Neighbors and Cousins” are more admirable, the band has made something that not only impresses me as someone who appreciates local music, but as a critic and a music enthusiast.
WPGU Music Staff Rating: W-P-G
Key Tracks: “Irish Wristwatch”, “Bat Suite”, “When I Couldn’t Move”
Recommended if you like: The Walkmen, Dr. Dog, and Spoon.
W = Poor
W-P = Fair
W-P-G = Great
W-P-G-U = An instant classic!