Santigold’s second set “Master of My Make-Believe” is varied, entertaining, produced well and feels firm, very final. The artist herself is unfortunately still lumped into this gob of musicians that began making their mark about six years ago, known for their vaguely or overtly “ethnic sounds,” from M.I.A. and her frequent collaborator Diplo, to the African beats of Yeasayer to dub- and Middle Eastern-borrowing Gwen Stefani.
It’s more than half a decade on, and Santi White has still thwarted any traditional classification. “Make-Believe” moves easily between pop and dance to hip-hop and experimental rock. You can thank her collection of producers like Q-Tip, Diplo or Dave Sitek for the variety, but still the segues between songs indicate very much that its track order and choice deck-helmers were in the plan all along.
Single “Disparate Youth” and songs like “The Riot’s Gone” and “The Keepers” are buoyed by recognizable rhythm sections turned on their head, pushed in the front of the mix like a sonic confrontation. In her own turns, Santi puts on and takes off snapshot personae like clothes, keeping with the “Make-Believe” trend of play-pretend. adopting a sneering rapper for “Look at these Hoes,” which sounds like a parody of hip-hop as much as it does a legitimately dope street track. She leads the opening strains of a rave on closer “Big Mouth,” a destination distinct from the dub-laden track “Freak Like Me” with two or three characters coming out for the procession. On "This Isn't Our Parade," she tells her subject, “I can hear you callin’… won’t you come down?” between a tribal call-to-arms and video game noises.
What’s missing at times is emotional attachment to such startling shifts. White isn’t the most effective “singer,” though her voice is so striking and recognizable. The melody from “The Keeper” suffers for her vocal limitations, and opener “GO!” does no favors in distancing her from the inevitable M.I.A. comparison, in the wrong ways.
But look to ultra-fun “Fame”: It may not move you, but you will move. It’s in managing those expectations, that Santigold isn’t forcing herself into a pop tart mold or breaking all molds in general. She chose her songs wisely, sequenced beautifully and came out with a believable, shiny and strong second effort.