With a background in A&R, production, songwriting and punk rock, along with a particularly excellent debut album to live up to, expectations were always going to be high for this second album by Santi White, AKA Santigold.
It’s been four years since her self titled debut, an album which saw her being dubbed “the queen of all pop in 2008” by NME and “A star in the making” by The Guardian (these endorsements helpfully adorn the sticker clinging to the CD) while vomiting glitter on said albums sleeve. Since the album was a devastating mix of guitars, drum machines, samples and post punk attitude, the sleeve felt oddly appropriate.
It’s good to know that follow up Master of My Make Believe is a worthy successor to it.
The album opens with ‘Go‘ and within seconds the listener is running to keep up. This is a statement of intent to dance to. Scattergun lyrics are delivered in a post punk staccato manner: “People want my power, and they want my station. Stole my winter palace, but they couldn’t take it.” This song was among those leaked online last year and features a tremendous, imperious and icy Karen O (Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, Karen O and The Kids). It is a sterling tour de force with vicious, hammering beats that are not to be ignored or denied.
It starts like old style Missy Elliot, then goes all MIA, while somehow coming across at times like a coyer Lady Leshurr
First single ‘Disparate Youth‘ is crunchy but strikes an easier pace. The post punk minimalist guitar samples enhance the mood of restlessness: “They said our dreams would carry us, if they don’t fly we will run” and “They know that we want more, a life worth fighting for” suggesting a younger generation talking to an older generation, in slightly world weary tones. It feels like Donna Summer’s ‘State of Independence‘ without the evangelical optimism. Or perhaps ‘State of Independence’ meets The Specials ‘Ghost Town‘ for the modern age. The video can only be described as Indiana Jones meets Lord of the Flies. Make of it what you will.
The sonically impressive feat that is ‘God from the machine’ follows. This track features a military tattoo emanating crisply from a drum machine, which in turn creates a sense of unease on a number of levels. There is something almost clinically precise about much of this album. Particularly this track, which is perhaps intentional: It is called ‘God from the machine’ after all. While the chugging bass belongs more to Sonic Youth or Pavement than it ever could to a military marching band, it is all but buried under the barrage of drums.
The more playful ‘Fame’ is next and it’s a delightfully skippy, jump-around affair. A very modern essay on the latest drug (which is of course fame) making for a track that is lyrically pin sharp and musically good fun. The fun continues with ‘Freak Like Me’, which starts like old style Missy Elliot, then goes all MIA, while somehow coming across at times like a coyer Lady Leshurr. The clash is remarkably effective and this will be a definite winner on the dancefloor, once you’ve got over it not being another variation of the celebrated Gary Numan/Adina Howard mash up.
‘The Keepers’ is a contender for anthem of 2012
This isn’t our parade’ is, by contrast, more introspective and quieter in mood and sound. There is greater space in the music and it is quietly anthemic in its hymn to the outsider standing on the sidelines, watching someone else’s story. The pulsating beats imitate a heartbeat and the keyboard melodies delicately weave in and out, enhancing the subtle poignancy.
‘The Riots Gone’ continues this sense of introspection and, along with later track ‘The Keepers’, is a contender for anthem of 2012. While the lyrics could be read as masochistic on an individual level, they can be read as strangely appropriate when applied beyond one woman and projected onto society: “Oh take me on, let me go all day, Just beat it til I know, ‘Til I know that, the riots gone, the riots gone away.” If you marched in the UK on 30 November last year, if you marched against tuition fees in 2010 or if you voted Lib Dem in 2010, this sums up the feeling of emptiness and frustration inside perfectly. Readers in the US (home of Santigold) will, I expect, have their own political equivalents, as I expect will readers in Spain, Greece, France, Egypt and innumerable countries around the world.
‘Pirate in the Water’ follows this sense of disconsolation with spacey and deliciously trippy dub, providing a buffer of sorts before we reach ‘The Keepers’.
If ‘The riots gone’ is disconsolation, ‘The Keepers’ is Kim Wilde’s ‘Kids in America‘ re-written as apocalyptic dissatisfaction: “We’re the keepers, while we sleep in America, our house is burning down.” This is the prequel to ‘The riots gone’, the fire before the flood and the rage before the resignation, with surging mid tempo drums that are reminiscent of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill‘. If ‘Running Up That Hill’ sounds like an odd reference point, readers might want to bear in mind that ‘My Superman‘, a track from the debut album, was entirely based around ‘Red Light‘, a Siouxsie and the Banshees song from 1980. (If you’re familiar with the original it’s very obvious after a few listens, but it is also acknowledged on Wikipedia.)
‘Big Mouth’ seems to read like one long diss of Santigold’s pop rivals, such as Lady Gaga
With this range of musical influences and imagination, it’s a real shame to fetch up listening to ‘Look at These Hoes’. What was Santi thinking? It’s like Missy Elliot meets Peaches with the swagger of Gangsta rap and Beyonce’s ‘Diva‘. This admittedly sounds pretty good on paper but it is actually very disappointing. Disappointing in its use of the word hoe, disappointing in its lack of originality, disappointing, disappointing… Gangsta rap was one of many abominations to blight the 1990s. Do we really want a reminder?
Final track ‘Big Mouth’ sees things getting back on track and swarms into your ears like an angry wasp. It features trademark quickfire lyrics and makes for an impressive second single, even though it seems to read like one long diss of Santigold’s pop rivals, such as Lady Gaga. You can dance to it and it’s got a certain furious energy but, while it’s funny rather than embittered, it does lack the bite of energetic and inventive modern acts like Barbara Panther.
Overall this is a great album, with one lousy track and a couple of merely good ones, amongst an overall excellent portfolio. It’s still only May but this is surely a contender for album of the year.
Picture of Santigold performing at Austin City Limits 2011 by wfuv, shared under a creative commons licence. This is a close-up of Santigold (against a light, possibly outdoor, background) looking out at the crowd, smiling. The microphone in her right hand is just in shot in the bottom left corner. She is wearing round dark glasses
Cazz Blase dances in her socks while longing for better days