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.


7 out of 10 rating