Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Santigold - Master Of My Make Believe

When we last heard from Santi White she was known as Santogold and had just produced one of the most infectious debut albums of the last few years with her 2008 self-titled album. Now, with a legally enforced moniker change, she’s back to take up where she left off.

Though she’s previously proven her pure pop credentials with songwriting credits for Christina Aguilera and Ashlee Simpson ‘Master of My Make Believe’ falls just too far outside of the mainstream to rack up chart hits. This doesn’t mean that there’s a shortage of catchy choruses, just a record that feels akin to a rejection of the dubstep/RnB inspired music that dominates the charts. Instead there is a welcome eclecticism and darkness to tracks such as the tribal soul-punk of ‘God From the Machine’. When Santigold sings ‘you can make it alone’ you believe her in a way you never would if the track came from one of the artists she has written for in the past.

Like MIA, Santi always talked a good game and also like MIA there is some of the same dancehall influence at work here. Partly recorded in Jamaica with Switch on production the sound of their Major Lazer collaborations has clearly fed into ‘Master of My Make Believe’. On tracks like ‘Fame’ kettle drums rumble and bounce as Santigold offers an indication of an American culture that aspires to empty fame. But when she admits she wants it ‘maybe just a little though’ and the tracks winds up into a true electro-banger there’s an energy and inventiveness mostly absent from modern pop music.

Unfortunately not every track succeeds as an art-pop statement. Compared to the sassiness of the Sugababes track with which it shares its name ‘Freak Like Me’ feels awkward and uneven. Whereas the Sugababes track helped to popularize the art of the mash-up, Santigold’s relies on an unappealing cut up vocal hook and one of Switch’s less limber productions, reeled back into a world in which Nicki Minaj and co have co-opted her neon chic. It’s harder for an artist to stress their individuality when her sound doesn’t feel as fresh as it did four years ago.

Fresher material is to be found with new-wave standout ‘Disparate Youth’ and mid-tempo ‘The Riot’s Gone’ which sound more akin to another set of Santigold cohorts Nick Zinner and Karen O’s Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The second of those tracks even features a coda not a million miles away from the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs own ‘Maps’. Another twist comes ‘The Keepers’ which starts with oriental bells and Santi singing about ‘smoke in her eyes’ before hitting a wide-screen 80’s chorus.

The final two tracks encapsulate both its creator’s strengths and her weaknesses. The descending electronic bleeps and kettle drum slaps of ‘Look at these Hoes’ seems to aim for the self-awareness of LCD Soundsystem but meanders like a directionless diatribe. Perhaps Santigold is jealous of the success her songs have had in other hands but if so she’s determined to rectify this she seems prepared to do battle on her own terms only. On the other hand ‘Big Mouth’ pours more whip-crack craziness into three minutes of whoops, drops and sheer attitude than any one song has any right to and is all the better for it.

Hip but not always the danceable statement of intent it aspires to be.


Max Sefton

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