Best New Music Special: Cruel Santino documents his sonic evolution on new LP, ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN’
A total immersion into his hyper-vivid world
A total immersion into his hyper-vivid world
In many ways, the brand of fluid, non-conformist art that the polymath known as Cruel Santino has pushed for the better part of the last decade has been rooted in world building. On 2019’s ‘Mandy & The Jungle’, the musician’s genre-meshing efforts birthed a 16-song stash populated with songs that sounded like internal monologues and glimpses into his creative mind. There were references to mental battles, and an abiding sense of perpetual wonder about the fucked-upness of the world—all interjected by the occasional moshpit-starting single.
On his latest album, ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN,’ the 29-year-old singer presents familiar concepts in a new fashion, finding fresh musical language to tell us about the tensions of his life, while inserting his mother’s timely advice, as well as offering unique time-stamps of his new jet-setting lifestyle. The days since the release of ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN’ has inspired heated conversations on the internet about an artist’s progression, growth and the overall state of the alté subculture.
Once birthed in the early 2000s to the mid-2010s, against the backdrop of Nigeria’s conservative society that treated their earliest music, fashion and lifestyle with bemusement that later transformed to disdain, as the work of some of the movement’s leading figures started to cross shores and borders. With experimentation already baked into the DNA of many of its key players, ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN’ is the latest evidence of such innovation.
Inspired by anime, the Japanese animation which has found a community in fringe parts of the globe, Cruel Santino’s album plays like a cohesive movie sequence. Opener “MATILDA” lacks the pure sentimentality of ‘Mandy’s’ “Raining Outside,” swapping the latter’s R&B sentimentality for a catchy bounce that closely mirror’s the song’s vivacious lyrics. Even where Cruel Santino taps into the essence of R&B here, the soundscape is grim but it’s a risk that pays off on songs like “WAR IN THE TRENCHES,” where the singer’s woozy-like cadence and breathless enunciation help translate the depth of his dissatisfaction and will to win.
View this post on Instagram
Most of the album plays out in this way, casually retooling familiar sounds to create new vibrations—and memorialise feelings—within Santino’s world. “THE PEARLS” and “TAPENGA” unfurl with a cinematic flair with the former particularly paying homage to Santino’s reputation as a 360 creative. While “MERMAID AQUA,” which bookends the first stretch of the album, is an inspired piece of minimalist production built around a simple drum pattern and scintillating piano keys that shines more light on the radiant constructions of Cruel Santino mind.
Despite much of Cruel Santino’s work being largely defined by moody eclecticism, some of the biggest moments in his career have been a product of his unique inversion of angst, turning his reflections on anxiety and dread to gems like “Gangsta Fear” and “Rapid Fire.” The songs that make up the centre of ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN’ follow this template: “DEADMAN BONE” with Jamaican star, Koffee, is an earworm track and features a genuinely revealing verse from Santino with great assist from his who spices things up with her spry voice, while “FINAL CHAMPION” is the song that most lends itself to the absurdist tendencies of Nigerian pop, with its distinct refrain of “Weyrey touch me” and its chest-thumping lyrics.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the album are the collaborators which Cruel Santino brings into his world. Gus Dapperton, who has one song named in his honour, and features on two other tracks delights across the album. He adds richer texture to the lovelorn texture of “BEAUTIFUL NOTHING,” a song about unrequited love that could easily double as a song about missing out on some of life’s best experiences while also accessorising his cadence on “WICKED CITY.”
The big question on many minds as they tumble through an hour of Cruel Santino’s music is trying to understand how it all connects. He’s always been keen to emphasise that his projects are conceptual in their scope. In a message on his social media hours before the project dropped, he encouraged listeners to avoid the impulse to skip songs, urging them to take it all in a couple of times before deciding on favourites.
But how does it all end? Do the Subaru boys find relief? Does the weyrey from “FINAL CHAMPION” ever fully materialise? Are we witnessing Cruel Santino find full manifestation in the fiery pop blast that is “SA-KURACHAN?” It’s hard to provide answers to these questions because maybe Santino doesn’t want us to figure it all out, as much as he wants to draw us into his cinematic world. However, what we get in its place are delightful soups of sounds that pull our tastes in fanciful exciting ways.
The album’s production is titanic, helmed by Cruel Santino’s very own Monster Boys and a talented spate of producers. ‘Subaru World: FINAL HEAVEN’ is a precursor to the next phase of what Nigerian music might aspire to, if it’s willing to embrace something new. But behind the impressive sonics, mind-bending vibes, and melodies, there’s a true sense that the artist is on the cusp of further evolution–even at this stage in his career. With Santino, it never quite seems like he’s done evolving, constantly pushing the needle on his creative output, and embracing his art and himself as a blank canvas ready to be transformed.
Listen to ‘Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN’ here.