In 2008, Santigold lit up the alt-pop world with an electric debut. In hindsight, Santogold served as a sonic pre-cursor to the cultural upheaval that would mark the subsequent months and years. As governments were overthrown, city streets were occupied, and Navy SEALs shot it out with pirates in the deep sea, the defiant eclecticism, unbridled energy and aural dissonance that characterized the Philly-born singer’s musical screeds made them feel suddenly anthemic. Four years later, Santigold returns with Master of My Make-Believe, an equally diverse, if more subdued, collection that feels like a reflection on the era of controlled chaos that her debut foreshadowed.
While the opener, “Go!” is vintage Santigold, complete with chanted vocals atop double-time percussion and sci-fi chase synths, “Disparate Youth” is the project’s true tone-setter. With jittery keys and drums belying a mid-tempo trance groove, lyrics of rebellion are delivered with world weary resolution as opposed to reckless abandon, as if sombered by a newfound awareness of the struggle that will come after the uprising. The same feeling is captured more explicitly on the album’s centerpiece, “The Riot’s Gone,” where the singer laments of “trying to loose the world inside, but it’s got no place to go,” atop a pensive track that gradually builds to ethereal falsetto catharsis.
Yet, for all of their movements and paradigm shifts, the past few years have also seen the proliferation of 140 character blasts of inanity, and “Kardashian” hijack the popular lexicon as virtually every part of speech. That vapidity permeates Master of My Make Believe as well, both in earnest (“Freak Like Me”) and in what read as failed attempts at parody (“Look At These Hoes”). Though not enough to derail the album, these speed bumps do stop it from achieving the sonic cohesiveness of it’s predecessor.
Instead of delivering a sequel to her debut, or ditching its template altogether to drop another game changing surprise, Santigold has presented the flip side of the same coin, aimed more at challenging heads than shaking tails. It’s a project more likely to fit comfortably into what will likely grow into a large and varied discography than deliver instant lightning in a bottle.
– Jeff Harvey