Smile Politely

Review: Santah’s You’re Still A Lover

Santah was born with their head in the clouds and their feet stuck in the dirty ground” seems like an all-too-common text that has made its way about the internet as the PR chums do their best to make people listen. Sometimes you need a hook, line, and sinker to listen to something from a band you’ve never heard of or have no reason to listen to since they’re from this little spot in the Midwest. Luckily for these five that make up Santah, you don’t need something like that around here. Home is always home, regardless of whether or not you’ve moved on and ventured to the Windy neighbors to the north. I still feel like this is a local group for a lot of reasons. When it comes to getting hooked on this band, I, for one, already took the bait  from the band’s last record, White Noise Bed. Clearly I’m not the only one, but for some, maybe they are still on the line and just need to be reeled in.

Crawling out of what was probably a dusty old Urbana house to begin a handful of years ago, we saw the birth of something else. A group that had a bunch of tools to work with, but didn’t necessarily have the correct instructions to make what they really wanted to make. Too many of those bands have come out of the woodwork from C-U and end up being nothing. We all know it happens too often, and many of those bands come and go with a mild whimper. Many of them don’t make it, but with enough persistence, oftentimes we find something worth holding onto for a bit longer. That’s kind of how I’ve felt after watching a band like Santah grow into something more than even the band themselves figured they would end up being.

Looking back to the beginning, some of Santah’s initial creations were little to pay attention to. Odds are, you’ve never heard of something that began as the “h”-less Santa and their My Bones EP, featuring some of the rawest and most under produced tracks they have ever put together. Not to say those didn’t have any potential, or at least a glimmer of something, but really nothing to give much attention to. Regardless, that’s not the band we’re talking about here exactly. It’s really quite something to see what a few things can do in order to change what you really are. Hell, could it have been as simple as that “h” itself?

The band we’re talking about is one that crafted an elegant and charming debut from a few years back that made a bit of a splash around these parts. I remember getting my own copy when it came out (which I still have, with it’s cheap paper sleeve and all), and immediately being floored by what was on it. White Noise Bed truly is an album of pop riches. I mean, just listen straight down the line and realize what they were working with there. Made up of a dozen tracks — including the yelping Walkmen-esque “No Other Women,” toe tapping howler “Chips of Paint,” or the gorgeous “Merry Ann,” — any of which could be a favorite at any point in time. It was pretty astounding to see the leaps and bounds Santa made in becoming Santah. It’s no surprise that this band ended up doing bigger things, getting signed to No Sleep Records in no time.

Due to how unexpectedly good White Noise Bed was, I know I set the bar pretty high as far as my personal expectations go this time around. With this new collection of tracks, I have to say initially I was disappointed when I realized it wasn’t going to be a full album. Granted, we knew they were going put out some of the live songs they had been playing while touring for White Noise Bed. It was only a matter of time before those tracks were refined, readjusted and recorded, creating what we’re all calling You’re Still A Lover. Their five song release is nothing short of a quality chunk of music. 

There’s nothing wrong with setting the bar high, because even if they come up a bit short, you’re still working with something worthwhile. You’re Still A Lover is a complex concoction of bliss, charm, harmony and warmth, which is everything we’ve come to expect from the Santah crew at this point. The band wastes no time, chugging right into “Springfield” which swallows you with it’s swirling guitars and both Stan and Vivian McConnell showing us how they have continued to excel behind the microphone.

“North Coast” grinds up some Nels Cline-like guitars in certain portions while still maintaining that Santah tone they’ve developed so well. Some of the best of the best come from this track, where an irresistable chimming piano section throughout finds its way to shudder its way right through you and down your spine. Can’t help but make that embarrasing air-keyboard gesture while those small sections come through. The vocal sections repeating “I could just die” make the phrase inviting instead of depressing.

Some surprises also come about through You’re Still A Lover that are unexpected. Take for instance “I Love The Way You Seal a Deal,” which is an intro Arcade Fire could have put together a handful of years ago, mixed with an uncommon baritone from Stan McConnell’s vocal repertoire to start it out. This track just blossoms into quite the howler and something that is one of the heavier tracks they’ve ever come up with in the rhythm section I’d say. This one just chugs and smashes along. Even some of the ukuleles or mandolins used in “Teeth” were surprising to hear.

“Indigo” closes it out, starting with a lucious organ section and blooming into an unexpected epic towards the end with the steady bass section overlapping with some rivetingly rapid guitars which might be something Beach House or even Explosions in the Sky could envy. Let’s not get it twisted though, we’re just talking about a guitar tone and rhythm here, so I doubt either of those bands would come hollering for their sound back. I’ll bring it back down to Earth for a minute.

“You already knew” are some lyrics that catch on like the trap they’re talking about, but as they say, we already knew it was coming. What we’re given here is simply put, a great listen. No doubt about it. Definitely something that leaves us wanting more, but I have a feeling that’s exactly what they want us to feel. One of those weaknesses they discuss all-too-often in their lyrics, but is pretty much the most appropriate feeling when it comes down to it.

Executive Editor

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