Genre-bending songwriter Santigold (then Santogold) hit the scene in 2008 with her self-titled debut LP, a daringly diverse effort that mixed pop and dance music sensibilities with sleek rap production values. The only thing bigger than her impact was the resulting hype generated for her sophomore offering. Now, four years and countless delays and false starts later, Master Of My Make-Believe is finally upon us. After all this time and impatient waiting, the resulting effort is decidedly average, sticking rather close to Santigold’s comfort zone and leaving us with a few gems, some weaker numbers, and most telling of all, a chunk of meh-worthy cuts.
The true album standouts are such because of their direct connection back to smash Santogold-era hits. Sans the extra, intangible buzz, “God From The Machine” is a spiritual successor to “Creator”. The beat is an understated bit of elegance, centered upon a hollowed choral vibe with jagged garage-rock guitar and heavy-handed, theatrical drums heaped on top. It’s the perfect accompaniment for Santigold’s anthemic lyricism, repeating ad nauseam, “You can make it alone, oh, if you try till the beat come home/You can make it alone, oh, if you try they’ll never see you fall”, displaying newfound levels of concision and effectiveness.
Switching gears slightly, “Look At These Hoes” is a less substantial version of “L.E.S. Artistes”. Akin to a saner Nicki Minaj track, a cascade of electronic drums sets the stage for Santigold’s rapid-fire flow, taunting foes with the dopeness of her body and her mountainous cash flow. It’s musical candy that hardly ruins more meaningful fare because of its pseudo-tongue-in-cheek aspect.
“Fame” finds a sweet spot between depth and abandonment: Leaping off a beat from a Venusian circus (jarring horn sample, marching band drumline, etc.), Santigold gleefully explores the plethora of pitfalls and drags associated with star power. Despite being extremely reminiscent of older efforts, these tracks demonstrate enough freshness and newly-cultivated insight to be considered truly successful.
Because they’re none of the above, cuts like “Big Mouth” and “Freak Like Me” are more bothersome. The former, in particular, has everything in it to be a big pop hit: tribal drums, M.I.A.-inspired multi-culturalism, a catchy chorus built for shouting in clubs and in cars, and a grab-bag of other pop standbys (dub-esque effects and a total lack of cohesion and consistency). And it’s not that Santigold is above making such music, because her sound is built for such delicious nonsense. It’s just that after all this time waiting for the album, as fun as they may be, uninspired club bangers just aren’t enough.
“Freak Like Me” is another example of hitting the right notes but missing the point entirely. It’s the most even-keeled album track, keeping the jungle rhythms and Middle Eastern aura flowing at an enjoyable pace. It’s the indecipherable lyrical aim (is Santigold truly flaunting herself or merely being coy with her sonic satire?) that’s the genuine buzzkill. Yet again, at this point in her career and after so much time crafting the record, laziness like that is slightly annoying.
What’s truly problematic, though, are the effort’s meh-level songs (the Karen O-featuring “GO!”, “Disparate Youth”, “This Isn’t Our Parade”, and “The Keepers”). While they sing no great harmonies nor rattle with infectious tones, they do offer a portrait of Ms. White as a confused, lacking artist. Along with being laughably miniscule, the lone collaboration distracts with questions and concerns of its inclusion in the first place. The sheer quantity of these songs is indicative of a need for more precisely-planned tracklists, edited to optimize enjoyability. In addition, their placement demonstrates thick-headedness on the part of Santigold and her contributors, exposing a group more focused on completing the album than maximizing its potential.
Each of those aspects only go to inform a greater truth: Hype and anticipation rule all. After having hopes and expectations for this album stew for so long, the perception overpowers the reality, making it so that no matter what you hear, be it moving or nauseating, the perception, the things you’d wanted or expected, are all can you ever truly hear. These notions not only eschew thoughts on a current album, but can also work to retroactively shape the perception of an artist’s entire preceding career, giving them true, lethal power in the mind of a listener. It’s possible the framework of the listener’s approach is more crucial than the creator’s POV, as the former dictates its worldly existence outside the artist’s creative bubble.
This record foolishly did its best to prove that concept wrong, resulting in a four-year wait for something that shines in most parts and violently hampers itself in others. Whether it’s even more time between releases or extra care and planning during writing/recording, Santigold needs to reexamine her approach before she’s a true pop master.
Essential Tracks: “Fame” “God From The Machine”, “Big Mouth”, and “Freak Like Me”