Santigold’s (a.k.a. Santi White, formerly Santogold ) 2008 debut was easily my favorite album of that year. Indeed, there was much to love about the album, with its unabashed nods to new wave while tossing in dashes of reggae, pop, and hip hop. I played the hell out of the album in the summer months, which were a personal transition for me as I migrated from Iowa City (my home of four years) to Baltimore. (I had the pleasure of seeing Santigold perform in the latter town, easily one of the best shows I’ve seen in the last 5+ years).
Given my fondness for her first album, I eagerly awaited Santi’s return. But it’s not as if Ms. White’s been sitting idle for the last four years. She’s lent her voice to a number of projects, including N.A.S.A., Beastie Boys, Major Lazer, David Byrne, and Lonely Island. She’s lent her production skills to Spank Rock and Blaqstarr, while earning songwriting credits for her work with Spank Rock, The Pase Rock, and even Ashlee Simpson. This assortment of side projects didn’t satiate; when your debut album is as strong as 2008’s Santogold, audiences are hungry, anxious – even a bit nervous about the next release.
In January, the wait was tempered somewhat by the release of the “Big Mouth,” video, our first taste of Master of My Make Believe. It was admittedly a bit of a disappointment. “Big Mouth” seemed to be going after some of that M.I.A. money, being an enjoyable yet somewhat contrived single. This of course made me nervous about Santigold’s full length sophomore disc. Finally, the time has come. Does Master of My Make Believe live up to the glory of its predecessor? Or is it a victim of the rarely recoverable sophomore slump?
The answer is neither: it’s something in between. On the whole, Master of My Make Believe lacks the instant enjoyability that characterized Santigold’s debut. While Master may not be the bomb, it’s not exactly a bomb either. The standout track is undoubtedly “GO!,” which receives a bit of help from Yeah Yeah Yeahs frontwoman Karen O. The breakneck tempo, high octane burner is a brilliant album opener, and will likely be the soundtrack to many of my runs this summer.
For good or ill, the rest of the album sounds remarkably similar to Santi’s previous disc. There is a certain freshness to the tracks, but one does get the feeling that Santigold opted first and foremost to play it safe on her second full-length LP. Many of the tracks are cut from the same mold as those on Santogold: dubby electro pop (“Disparate Youth,” “Pirate in the Water”), new wavey pop rock (“The Keepers,” “God from the Machine,” “This Isn’t Our Parade,” “The Riot’s Gone”), and more tribal-tinged dance tunes (“Big Mouth,” “Fame”). To the album’s detriment, two of Master‘s tracks rely on hooks straight out of the top 40 hip hop play book (“Freak Like Me,” “Look at These Hoes”).
Yet there’s something about Master of My Make Believe that doesn’t turn me off. Maybe there’s comfort in the familiarity. Maybe that familiarity has been tweaked just slightly enough to hold my attention. I can’t quite put my finger on it. But despite my criticisms, I foresee Master of My Maker being one of my personal heavy rotation discs for summer 2012, although contending for best album of 2012 is unlikely.