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Cruel Santino’s Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN is a vague and intangible dream soundtrack

"Subaru Boys: FINAL HEAVEN"

Release date: 04 March 2022
Crue santino album art
04 March 2022, 19:15 Written by Sam Franzini
Some albums are hindered by an intense track list – the foot seems to never leave the gas pedal and the listener barely gets the chance to breathe. But that’s preferable to Cruel Santino’s latest album, which rarely revs the ignition.

On this album, Santino continues his work in the Afrobeats genre, defining it farther. Even on his first album, he cultivated a sound of “alté,” meaning “alternative,” a burgeoning movement in Nigeria. Combining the dancehall, R&B elements of alté with a new intergalactic sound, the instrumentals on this album are hypnotic and alluring at first, but wear quickly. “MATILDA (feat. Brazy)” opens the album and is a good reference sheet for these kinds of beats that dominate the record. It’s similar to some of the songs on The Avalanches’ We Will Always Love You, just not as laid back.

The next song, “I TOLD GUS I’M DREAMIN”, opens with a spoken dialogue that pops up through the album, not unlike Jim Carrey’s monologues on The Weeknd’s Dawn FM. “Good evening sea humans and sea creatures, you are now approaching Shell Petal,” the voice says. And what is “Shell Petal?” It’s not clear, but the proceeding instrumental (and that on tracks like “HEATING ROCKS” and “MERMAID AQUA”) paints a perfect picture—the songs sound like they belong on the soundtrack to a peaceful game set near the ocean.

Unfortunately, continuing on with the album results in little more diversity of sound. One highlight is “WAR IN THE TRENCHES”, which incorporates a kitschy video game sound effect. It features honest lyrics about carrying the weight in a relationship – “When it comes to the war in the trenches / I'ma motherfuckin' legend / And I tried to beg you / I tried to help you / I tried to let you,” he sings.

“FINAL CHAMPION” is a sparse enough track that all the focus is on the lyrics – there’s even an echo effect to make sure you pay attention. “Got my Ghana bitch / Yeah she super thick, I call her kenkey,” referring to a Ghanian dish that, yes, is thick. Another fun track comes with “WAY OF THE SERPENT”, which comes with a change-up of instruments resulting in a tropical sound. It’s finally an exciting jam with real momentum – it’s a rare time heads might nod.

Two songs in the second half feature Gus Dapperton – both are infused with moody, indie pop ideas which are welcome switch-ups at this point. “BEAUTIFUL NOTHING” is the better of the two as the atmosphere of the song encapsulates a spacey atmosphere within its walls of synthpop.

It’s a telling sign the “official soundtrack interlude” is one of the cleanest songs on the record – a possible direction for Cruel Santino’s. It’s genuinely well-made and suggests a successful career curating video game soundtracks – the “Shell Petal,” ocean-like tracks show promise in this field.

In most of these songs, there’s not much to hold onto in terms of pacing or catchy hooks. The record faces two major problems: the complete homogeneity of the instrumentals and the drawn-out track length, both of which multiply to create a muddy listening experience. While the first few songs are inventive and futuristic to a fresh ear, the majority of the ones that proceed feel like derivatives instead of branches out to new ideas.

While the album contains multiple arcs with various viewpoints, they wind up hard to differentiate. Certainly, the sounds presented are breezy and easy listening, billing a record as a dive into a conceptual world invites a search for storytelling and theoretical concepts that are ultimately not present. As seen in the visualizers, creative ideas are there, but they don’t always translate to the songs.

Whereas Janelle Monáe’s concept album The ArchAndroid showcased her ability to master a multitude of genres and styles like R&B, psychedelic funk, rap, and pop, Subaru Boys mostly plants and stalls in one sonic idea.

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