Santi White wants our attention. She’s certainly had it before: Almost every facet of her genre-defying 2008 debut was head-turning, from her brash delivery to the invigorating jolt of originality in her songs to the outlandish cover art that looked like the effects of downing a full bottle of Goldschlager. As Santigold, White’s eclectic approach to crafting her music has always been her calling card, and her new album Master of My Make-Believe is almost as varied as its predecessor in that regard. The most glaring difference between the two is simply the passage of time, and Master is Santigold’s attempt to abolish the intervening four years with a single press of the play button. Her sound, however, which once enjoyed an existence on the outer fringes of pop music, has been reigned in by the expanding tastes of artists both mainstream and independent. Diplo and Switch, who figured heavily into the production on both albums, are now touring college campuses worldwide as Major Lazer and helping Beyonce write hits. “Freak Like Me,” with its staccato sampling and spitfire rapping, could easily be mistaken for the B-side to a Nicki Minaj single.
There are definitely tracks on Master where White succeeds in making her audience remember what they’ve been missing. “Disparate Youth” is a lush, expansive song where she sandwiches throaty verses around bursts of jagged guitar from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s Nick Zinner. The gloriously bizarre and abrasive “Look at These Hoes,” which benefits from production by both Diplo and Boys Noize, lurches along on a burbling drum machine beat and sees White both accentuating her lyrics with shouts and abandoning them altogether during an electric live wire of a breakdown.
Still, too many songs on the album are stuck in mid-tempo purgatory, and though they contain glimpses of imagination and whimsy—a split-second sample of a horse galloping during “Pirate in the Water,” the glitchy breakbeats of “Fame”—there is a sense of complacency that pervades Master. Any of the tracks that make up the album’s midsection could have been pulled directly from Santigold’s debut, and they blend into one another in the way that mildly enjoyable songs with no real identifying features tend to do. This lies in stark contrast to “Big Mouth,” where chirps, warbles and vocals that descend from every direction collide with a military tattoo of drums. This is White at her most relentlessly catchy and inventive, and is perhaps the one song on Master that is a true sonic step forward for her. Not surprisingly, it is also probably the best cut on the entire album.
On the rousing opener “Go!,” which again features Zinner as well as his bandmate Karen O, White boasts “People want my power / And they want my station…Try to pull my status/ But they couldn’t fake it.” This might have been true four years ago, but Santigold is no longer part of the musical vanguard anymore, and has been reeled back into the pack. Master of My Make-Believe is by no means a disappointment, but it falls short of the expectation that has been gestating for the past four years. White is certainly not just another face in the crowd, but her music might be hard-pressed to grab as much attention this time around.