Santigold, ‘Master of My Make-Believe’ – Album Review
Santigold (née Shanti White) has staked a claim for being an Afro-Caribbean cyborg ambassador from a retro future—which would be an awesome gig, if the field weren’t so crowded: see M.I.A., Nicki Minaj, Rihanna.
White, the Philadelphia-born singer that crossed over in 2008 with ‘Santogold,’ from which singles ‘L.E.S. Artistes’ and ‘Creator’ became a part of the late-00s cultural fabric. Now four years later, White has given us in ‘Master of My Make-Believe’ an at-times brilliant, if uneven, album that is deeply individual at its best, and rather common at its worst.
Let’s rewind: back in the day in Philly, White was the golden-voiced lead singer of punk rock band Stiffed—listen to ‘Hold Tight‘ to get a glimpse of a younger White. Some of the best Santi(o)gold tracks preserve that snarls-and-lipstick punk rock vibe, like ‘You’ll Find A Way’ off the last record or ‘GO!,’ the aggressive opener to our current one.
Others take on a dub or ska vibe, and it’s these more relaxed tracks that allow White to showcase her idiosyncratic vocals: ‘Disparate Youth’ is a standout, as drifting lead guitar, bouncy bass, and a drum machine march frame White’s candied verses “We said our dreams will carry us / and if they don’t fly we will run.”
Such musings show White has grown in these last four years. A mischievous, mournful maturity surrounds ‘This Isn’t Our Parade,’ an intimate almost-ballad that might be her best slow track, full of remorse, drums and reserved chorus. A listener can’t help but put that on repeat–and White nearly does as well, the next song being ‘The Riot’s Gone,’ which treads much the same languid, hurting androids-and-islands ground: “I’ve been haunted all my life / on the brink of something great.”
While these neon confessionals glimmer, not all of these tracks shine. The album drags when it falls into posture: ‘Freak Like Me’ and ‘Look At These Hoes’ rely on hip-hop convention for lyrical and musical content–these are not the tracks that separate her from the pack. If she’s going to be the best of the Rhiannian genre–and even transcend it–she needs to give us something that’s uniquely hers: as punk as it is polished, as raw is it is produced.