Somehow I don’t think that I am in Santigold’s target demo, but that didn’t stop me from being intrigued by her first Self Titled LP back when she was called Santogold. My wife came home one day and kept playing ‘I’m A Lady’ over and over again, which hooked me enough to try out the rest of her album. There are two very obvious singles that are so catchy that they run the risk of making you want to skip right to them and miss out on the rest of the album. Now if you can get past the inherent playability of ‘Lights Out’ and ‘Im a Lady’ you’ll be treated to a phenomenal indie rap/dub/creepy/etc hybrid that switches genre’s faster than a Girl Talk mash-up. I put it on right now just to remember, and damn it’s good. Yeah, her fashion sense was lifted out of M.I.A’s play book, but her musical stylings were wholly unique to me. I highly anticipated the follow up.
Skip forward 4 years and Master of My Make-Believe is upon us. From the opener ‘GO!’ it is clear that Santigold did not only change her name but has changed her musical style as well. The ever-present guitars, bass, and drums from the forefront of the EP are pushed to the background by synths, beats, and samples. This remains a theme throughout the album, but it’s not a bad thing. For an artist who skips around styles and moods as often as Santigold does, it doesn’t really feel off-putting at all. What remains is her signature vocal melodies, rhythmic style chants, and oohs and aahs that feel very familiar. The first track, ‘GO!,’ is a great way to start off the album. At first blush you don’t know where it’s going, but after a few ‘Hey Hey Hey’s’ she settles into a vocal cadence reminiscent of some of the songs girls sing while playing double-dutch jump rope on a playground and it will absolutely make your foot tap. Karen O of Yeah Yeah Yeahs fame also lends her vocals mid-song to add a little disparate creepiness to the track. It segues well into the beats of the second song which is also the lead single, ‘Disparate Youth.’ This track is primed for radio play and probably a slot on one of those Now That’s What I Call Music 132 (I think they still release those) mixes. Funnily enough, it is the singles on this album, including album closer ‘Big Mouth,’ that I find the most blasé. They’re good, but there are so many more gems on here than the singles.
‘God From The Machine’ thrives from the onset with a simple but very fitting drum beat at the focus, layered over the top of a bit of guitar and some background vocals used as samples. ‘Fame’ has a groove that will kick you in the teeth right when your’e not expecting it as Santi croons over the top. ‘Freak Like Me’ showcases just how much she can carry a song using minimum instrumentation and still have it sound incredibly full. The next two tracks are my favorite that Santigold has ever set to tape. Both ‘This Isn’t Our Parade’ and ‘The Riots Gone’ represent a major sonic shift in the record. They are sombre, heartfelt, and chilling in their sadness. They also show me that Santi has taken a page from Karen O’s playbook, as the songs would not sound out of place on the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s masterpiece It’s Blitz. This is a good thing. I could literally deal with there being 10 more albums by artists aping that record as song as they do it as well as Santigold has done it here. It’s hard to review the rest of the tracks because, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s hard to move on to more uppity songs when the beauty of these two tracks pack such an emotional punch.
The following song, ‘Pirate in the Water’ is slow and forgettable, but it could be its juxtaposition to the two highlight tracks. The final 3 songs aren’t particular highlights but do make a solid coda to a rock solid album. Santigold has released a cross-genre album that could easily make it into my top ten for the year’s end at this point. It’s seriously worth a listen or two with the headphones: there’s a lot going on here that merits your attention regardless of what music you like.
Grade: “ADHD in a very good way”