Steel your face

Sontiago returns with a 13-song indictment
By SAM PFEIFLE  |  September 26, 2007
inside_beat_Sontiago2
EYES ON THE HEAVENS: Sontiago gathers
her strength.

Let it be known that Sontiago is not for the squeamish. You might think you know her warm smile, easy embrace, and quick laugh. But she’ll cut you to the quick in an instant, and the girl is hard. If you need proof, skip to track two, “Faith Not Fear,” on her new album, Steel Yourself (and you’d better). The Lin’s production, with accents from Boondocks and DJ Mayonnaise, opens laid-back and soulful, warmed by a central cello line, but the song turns in an instant, Sontiago’s classically crisp and emphatic delivery entering like a kick in the groin. Wait a second: isn’t this going to be a pretty album? Not hardly.

But then you realize everything’s pointed inward: “Believe me I don’t want to not life love/But this is stronger than my will and beyond my control/Beside myself/Empty vessel, lost soul.”

It’s aggressively emotional and you can’t help but get caught up in it. Luckily, dilly dilly is on hand to ease the tension, or, as Sontiago puts it, “Give me something to take the edge off/Make the panic tolerable.” Her finishing verse is sultry and languid, finishing with the admonition, “Don’t forget to breathe.”

But don’t think all is introspection here. I certainly wouldn’t want to be the subject of the scorn Sontiago lays down in “Potential Paralysis.” The crackle of Xczircles’s production initiates a pervasive discomfort for the listener, emboldened by Sontiago’s lilting backing vocals that tear through the track, just a little bit off, crazed. “Don’t tell me about your misery,” Sontiago scolds amongst a series of non-rhyming couplets that flow just fine anyway, a series of statements that belong on a chalkboard somewhere. By the time she repeatedly wonders, “Did you know that I really needed you,” you’re completely defenseless against the body shots.

Steel Yourself | Released by Sontiago on Endemik Music | with dilly dilly + Gabe FM + the Nile Girls | at SPACE Gallery, in Portland | September 28
Tearing herself and the subjects of her songs wide open, Sontiago is a deconstructionist’s nightmare. Forget the intentional fallacy; over the course of 5000+ words of liner notes, Portland first lady of hip-hop tells you exactly what her songs mean.

At times, this can be disconcerting, like reading your sister’s diary. Even for someone like myself, who’s known and worked with Sontiago for seven years, it can be too much information. Do we really need to know she used to cheat on all her boyfriends? That marriage gave her anxiety attacks? That writing one song with dilly dilly made her laugh to the point of peeing herself?

That’s up to you. But I’m more comfortable with the sentiment Sontiago expresses in “Hold On Me”: “I was disheartened to a point I hadn’t felt before/This test presented itself in the ugliest of forms/But once the words pass your lips they’re no longer your own/You can trust the listener but you can’t always trust the phone.”

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