Santi White had already gone through a handful of different professional musical career stages by the time she released her first album as Santogold. She penned the entirety of Res’ highly underrated 2001 album How I Do, as well as writing singles for Lily Allen and Ashlee Simspon. In between, she fronted the poppy punk band Stiffed, and did a guest spot on a GZA/Genius album, on top of a handful of other guest contributions. Yet it wasn’t really until dropping the massive single “L.E.S. Artistes,” and its accompanying potpourri-pop album, that White broke through as a headlining artist in her own right. Blending new wave, punk, dancehall, synth-pop and any number of other reference points, White and collaborator John Hill audaciously packed a lot into one album, which, on the strength of her top-notch songwriting, made for a repeatedly great listen.
That was four years ago, and a year after Santogold’s debut dropped, wrestler Santo Gold took up legal action, which led White to change one letter in her project’s name, thus becoming Santigold. And though it took some time to arrive, thanks to some label issues, White’s second album, Master of My Make-Believe finally made it out of anticipation limbo, packed full of the electronics-heavy pop that marked her debut’s winning sound, but with an even heavier emphasis on dub. It has a familiar buzz about it, some of which is thanks to production from TV on the Radio’s Dave Sitek and M.I.A. collaborator Switch, but this one bangs harder, throbs deeper, and takes few opportunities to leave the dance floor.
The comparisons to M.I.A. that White has garnered since releasing her debut in 2008 aren’t likely to go away anytime soon, particularly given her similarly bombastic cadence in the album’s first single and leadoff track “Go!” However, the addition of Karen O’s vocals provides a dark and arty foil, and in the end the song escalates toward some kind of strange Halloween-goth stomp, which turns out to be pretty damn fun. The real breakout gem here is “Disparate Youth,” an infectious bit of reggae-influenced dream pop in which White moves away from Maya-style alarm calls and toward a melodic, mesmerizing delivery. But if there’s room for another smash hit, my money’s on the Greg Kurstin-produced “God From the Machine,” a real stunner that transitions between spacey dub verses and a dense, dark post-punk chorus.
The mid-section of the album finds White in the company of more dancehall beats in “Fame” and “Freak Like Me,” though she drops the BPMs shortly thereafter, offering up a pair of hyper-ballads with Florence Welch-style open hearted heroine-ism. “This Isn’t Our Parade” is one such track, a gorgeously fortified lullaby that’s on par with her most hook-heavy tracks, while “The Riot’s Gone” bears more than a passing resemblance to the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Maps.” Before long, however, White’s back to the electro thump on “Pirate in the Water” and the comparatively silly “Look at these Hoes.”
Despite the time it took Master of My Make-Believe to get here, it’s not an unusually long or sonically challenging record, though it definitely sounds great. While White ditched some of the simpler punk-rock sounds, it’s ultimately what most listeners likely would have expected from Santigold the second time around. That’s not necessarily a promising development in a time when short attention spans run high; good thing the songs are good enough to make up for it.