Santi White (aka Santigold) could pass for the ageless, shape-shifting Marvel mutant, Mystique. The artist formerly known as Santogold is the ultimate pop chameleon and her followers go way beyond lovers of “Creator,” “L.E.S. Artistes” and Bud Light Lime anthem, “Lights Out.” Her much-lauded, self-titled 2008 debut left me cold with its somewhat unadventurous wash of dub, dancehall, and electro-pop vibes. Still, others saw vast potential. Our own Andrew Winistorfer called Santogold “a hook-heavy album that effortlessly meshes multiple musical styles and traditions.”
All the great press was not totally unjustified, though. White’s past ventures as an A&R rep (she penned singles for Lily Allen and Ashlee Simpson at Epic Records) and new-wave rocker (for Philadelphia’s Stiffed) helped propel her solid singles into becoming radio and blog sensations.
Four years later, Santigold’s disparate artistry doesn’t seem so novel anymore, but her tunes remain sturdier than most pop songs on the radio. The indie and pop industry may have slightly conflated, but that’s not a reason to slight an album that has such well-meaning and fairly well-executed intentions. Santigold takes it all in stride on her adventurous sophomore effort, Master of My Make-Believe. She continues her adoration for reggae, new wave, electronic dub, and post-punk with bold direction most of the time.
Longtime Santigold producers Diplo, Switch, and John Hill return, but the true stars behind the boards are Q-Tip, TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek, Boys Noize, and Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ Nick Zinner. They give Santigold’s latest more of the edge that Santogold< > lacked. At its most combative, Make-Believe is Santigold’s stentorian announcement to the pop world that their produce is rotten. The Karen O-featured “Go!” is a great example. Its militaristic beat sets the album’s tone early and that war-like percussion continues on several later tracks.The dubby rock single “Disparate Youth” is even better. Fans of Santogold’s early singles will revel in its perfect storm of electric guitars and dubbed out swagger. Whereas White’s previous ballads weren’t something to write home about, Make-Believe‘s “The Riot’s Gone” and “Pirate in the Water” have a beautiful sheen that’s hard to deny.
At just 11 songs and 37 minutes, Make-Believe is a modest work. Fans expecting a grand affair are running a fool’s errand. Its blockbuster thrills are clumped together like sugary pieces of cotton candy in the first third and the last three tunes (“The Keepers,” “Look At These Hoes,” and “Big Mouth”) prove to be slogs on second and third listens. This is unfortunate, but not entirely devastating for an artist that can bounce back from nearly any defeat. After all, White assured her fans in a recent Pitchfork interview that she’s definitely not LMFAO.
Santigold lives and dies by her ability to shape-shift into any particular genre. This album’s Kehinde Wiley-designed cover boasts her power in bold. She appears as a business man, Napoleon-esque conquerer immortalized on canvas, and a pair of scepter-wielding Bond girls. Make-Believe is equally varied. At any moment it can be a buzzing and loud or reflective and feminine. Such experiments, especially the pulsing “This Isn’t Our Parade” and the angelic new-wave punker “God from the Machine” build catchy melodies on top of their beats.
Master of My Make-Believe works just enough for a Web 2.0 culture that can stream select songs on Spotify or Pandora. You could never truly expect a truly cohesive album from Santigold, and she’s met expectations. Grab the tracks that work for your next mixtape or iTunes playlist and move along. Santigold is already three steps ahead of you.