It’s been three years since one-woman dance project Smile Now Cry Later first burst on the scene with “Just Wanna,” a sexy dance-floor banger that wowed listeners when it appeared on a commercial for MAC cosmetics. In the time since, project mastermind Lizeth Santos has solidified her status as one of San Diego’s most dependable party starters, building a devoted following with the help of ’80s-style synths and Latin-tinged beats.
Now, Santos has finally dropped her self-titled debut full-length. A 13-track tour de force of sweet, delightful dance pop, the record offers the ideal soundtrack to summertime fun—whether that involves cruising to the beach with the top down or getting frisky in the back seat with your top off.
Santos has been working on a record for at least two years, which can feel like an eternity in pop music. But she was smart to take her time, because her hard work shows. Thirty-eight minutes long, the album sounds immaculate and effortless. Every drum machine beat flexes with muscle. Every norteño-style accordion sample and triumphant horn riff hits at the right moment. And Santos sounds like she’s having a blast the whole way through. In the anthem “Big Booty Butt,” you can practically see her smiling as she revs up the audience: “Shake shake shake shake shake shake shake it!”
Like some of the best pop music, this record is all about having fun—album highlights like the handclap-heavy “Not Responsible” and slap-bass driven “Favorite Song” celebrate simple joys like shirking adult responsibility and hearing your favorite song on the car radio. But Santos isn’t always so wholesome. Over the metallic thump and lurching synth-bass of “Up and Down (Dirty Dancer),” she approaches Donna Summer-like levels of orgiastic inflection when she sings, “I’m a dirty dancer!”
Of course, the record can sometimes feel a little too simple, since Santos doesn’t offer much by way of musical complexity or emotional depth. Next time around, if she takes some bigger risks, she might end up penning some seriously moving hits. But if you just wanna have an awesome time, this is the album for you.