Master of My Make-Believe - DOWNTOWN/ATLANTIC
FILTER Grade: 86%
By Adam Pollock; photo by Sean Thomas on May 16, 2012
At 35, Santi White has over a decade of music-making under her belt, from her early days in a punk band to her most well-known work under the nom(s) de funk Sant(o/i)gold, whose 2008 debut is still heard in all the right spots. Interestingly, however, the modern dictum for self-serving attention seekers—i.e. more is more—has yet to filter up to whatever wondrous and sparkly-dirty cloud Ms. White inhabits, while anticipation for a follow-up had, up until now, yet to be rewarded.
After seemingly frittering about for the last few years, 2012 seems poised to be a golden year for Santigold. Her appearances at SXSW initiated a tsunami of praise for her dance-party shows—and guest appearances, such as a Karen O cameo at January’s Williamsburg show—generating billions of social bytes. All of which bodes well for her (don’t call it a) sophomore release, Master of My Make-Believe.
In new photos, she looks, obviously, older than the fierce (yet secretly smiley) hipster we knew from the “L.E.S. Artistes” days. The confident, mature woman who demands our attention now pierces us with a gaze that suggests that she’s come into her own. (Not that Santigold didn’t own it at 29, too.)
One doesn’t have to know the musical backstory to embrace her new work—it certainly stands on its own—but knowing where Make-Believe came from does inform the listener. Thus, it feels less like an overly ambitious second album, as might be expected, and more like a pivotal and dramatic step forward into relevance once again.
The album opens with the light-hearted yet lyrically somber ’80s rave-up “Go!”—that is, until the aforementioned Ms. O brings some dark and off-tempo clouds to the party. This won’t be the first time this review references new wave, Bow Wow Wow (look it up, kids), Malcolm McLaren or The Clash. “People want my power, and they want my station,” goes the chorus, “hey hey hey hey hey, etc.” indeed. It’s a dramatic start.
From there, the 11 tracks on Master of My Make-Believe sway between glorious world-music-inspired modern alterna-pop and a walk in the puddles of new wave, the result of which sounds new, familiar and retro all at once. Skipping the temptation of mainstream chart-toppers (ones she may still have in her for the future), Santigold has moved straight to the ambitious and meaningful follow-up; think Sandinista! vs. London Calling.
“Disparate Youth,” the first serious song, follows “Go!” and immediately draws attention to the interesting interplay between “The Guns of Brixton”-esque bass runs and Santi’s nice-n-lazy melodies. (The video, too, pairs the wild with the wondrous as our girl motorbikes and sails—and not in the fancy Duran Duran way—about a mysterious island, complete with chalk-painted inhabitants and indigenous wildlife.)
“God from the Machine” is the funkiest song Leslie Feist might ever attempt and “Fame” brings the style we’re accustomed to from one of M.I.A.’s stalwarts—sexy sub-bass rattles the dinner plates as Santi moans, “We are the fame.” Badass. “Freak Like Me” provides an off-kilter zenith to a dizzying first half with warped vocals over beats and pings and various noises to create a hypnotizing, head-bobbing stoner high.
Santi has made no secret of her ’80s influences, and one can hear references to many of the era’s stalwarts in her tracks past and present; to the previously mentioned list, let’s now add the swagger of the Beastie Boys, Peter Gabriel’s high-flying melodies, Salt-n-Pepa’s tough-girl attitude and—while we often reference sterile drum machines, monochromatic keyboards and the crispness of CDs when describing that decade, truth be told there was a lot of soul to be found back then—said soul’s crushing behemoths Phil Collins and the Eagles.
The second half of Master—and it really does feel like you’re flipping wax at track six—completely embraces Santigold’s twisted retro aesthetic. “This Isn’t Our Parade” is a mid-tempo burner that pulls at the heart, although the lyrics aren’t so revealing. That’s followed by “The Riot’s Gone,” a lovely piece that seems to be more about a relationship than an actual riot. “The Keepers” amazingly lifts its melody from Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” which is really all that needs to be said about that song, other than that it’s an awesome track. Our girl isn’t done funking it up, though; Santi eventually ditches the melodrama and shifts into aggro-mode for the closing duo. “Look At These Hoes” lopes down the road like a pissed-off mosh pit, gnashing at anyone in reach; panting equals scary. “Big Mouth” jumps along at an even faster clip and lightens the mood with its worldly chanting, making for an uplifting end to an altogether welcome (and gruelingly overdue) return for Santigold.