Timing is everything in the music industry. Perhaps if Santino Le Saint dropped his self-produced micro-masterpiece, ‘THE SECOND EP’, a year later, Britain’s nocturnal endeavours would have quite different a soundtrack. That said, his latest effort ‘Cloud 304’ is here, and Santino’s command of mood has only gotten stronger. There is a vulnerability in the nineteen-year-old’s wraithly vocals which cuts right through every track, hanging delicately in the stark production’s negative space, demanding all kinds of attention. He is quickly becoming a master of minimalism – and he’s only just getting started.
R&B and minimalism never really used to coexist. Whether it was slow and supple or upbeat and jerky, it was always full of something. This is perhaps in part due to R&B’s devotion to pop during the 00’s, where its silky melodies and climactic hooks were engineered to please even the most casual listener. But times change: R&B became hip-hop, hip-hop became R&B, and the Weeknd released ‘House of Balloons’ – turning everything on its head. The underground pulled the rod out of their arse, no longer seeing R&B as ‘something their little sister would listen to’, and the days of Destiny’s Child’s symphonic maximalism seemed to be over.
Santino Le Saint has certainly been influenced by this wave of post-R&B, however, like all great musicians, he’s received the baton and ran in his own direction. ‘Cloud 304’ takes the framework and streamlines it further, stripping away anything that doesn’t serve to intensify the mood – and anything that might dilute his beautifully textured vocals. Two barely detectable chords form the backbone of ‘Friday Night’, intercut delicately with an icy guitar, allowing his biggest weapon to shine through: good old-fashioned singing and song writing. ‘Beauty is your masterpiece I’ve seen it through the lights / chased you in the dark just to bring us both to life’, he croons, negotiating the punchy snares with melodic inflections at the end of each bar. Elsewhere in the track, Santino pads out the stereo field with another ingenious vocal trick; a bassy rap is layered and accentuated with a falsetto lead, affording the EP’s lone sixteen an emotional intensity you will struggle to find elsewhere.
If R&B genre-smearing wants to capture a uniformly dark aesthetic, its production needn’t collapse into trap music.
However, minimalism isn’t Santino’s only chess move on ‘Cloud 304’. In fact, this EP has stronger ties to rock than hip-hop. That is to say, the poignant riffs and piercing vocal lines owe more to Radiohead than, say, Drake. Further, although the EP is light on raw instrumentation, Santino’s electric guitar is a motif that runs throughout the project; whether it be ‘4AM’s power strokes, ‘Let You Go’s distortion or ‘Friday Night’s ghostly plucks, grunge manifests itself in a variety of forms, and all to great effect. If anything, this demonstrates that, if R&B genre-smearing wants to capture a uniformly dark aesthetic, its production needn’t collapse into trap music. And neither should its vocal content. Although Santino’s tales and musings throughout the EP can seem rather alarming, they have nothing in common with the crass non-sequiturs of some of his bassier comtemporaries. Indeed, they are often underlined with a real vulnerability – a true hallmark of R&B.
This is Santino’s first project with Cloud X, and it’s extremely impressive. Everything from the artwork to the project-length nod to his minimal framework, a framework with which he can use to take R&B on another exciting deviation.