A lot can be taken from Master of My Make-Believe’s cover art. Upon it, Santigold appears four times, once in painted form, once as a powerful looking male, and twice as twin scantily-clad bodyguards. The braggadocio that was rife on 2008 debut album Santogold songs like “Shove It” and “Creator” is in this image, but it’s much more subtle and elegant, and it’s only one part of the image; there’s plenty of detail and playfulness to it too, and the same is true in the music on the album. The Karen O-featuring opening track “Go!” starts with the line “People want my power, and they want my station / Stormed my winter palace, but they couldn’t take it” which combines both that arrogance we know and love, along with some of that make-believe that goes on to make the album something special. It was that song, along with the closing neo-rave track “Big Mouth” which gave us our first tastes of Master of My Make-Believe, and both gave the impression that Santi was still the same boisterous talent. But what’s sandwiched between those two tracks shows us that this is far from the entire truth.
“Go!” is followed up by “Disparate Youth,” which was also released as a pre-album single, and is much more representative of the album as a whole. The song sets out a house-like glacial piano, lightweight spattering drums and an effective synth-loop, over which Santi sings about dreams, disaffection and striving for better. What’s more, the way it’s delivered is earnest and effective; the violent guitar interjections add a restlessness to the song, while the perfect chorus of “We said our dreams would carry us / And if they don’t fly we will run” turns the song into an anthem. This high watermark is never quite achieved again on Master of My Make-Believe, but the subtler production combined with introspective lyrics is a consistently winning combination.
The mid-album couplet of “This Isn’t Our Parade” and “The Riot’s Gone” show the emotional side of Santigold at its most bare, and therefore most powerful. “This Isn’t Our Parade” takes a tropical melody and pairs it with brooding synths. These match Santigold’s downcast lyrics, which could be about a simple break up, or something even graver; the interpretation is yours. “The Riot’s Gone” incorporates a military-like rapid snare beat while Santigold sings about a loss of passion and inspiration that smacks of honesty, and could perhaps give some indication about the four year wait between albums. On both of these songs – and throughout the album – Santi shows that she is a more than capable singer without ever going over the top in her vocals, which makes her more believable and personable.
Of course the more rambunctious and fun side of Santigold is also shown here, most ostensibly on “Freak Like Me,” which is paired perfectly with a typically simple beat from Major Lazer’s Switch, and “Look At These Hoes.” Both songs tread almost into Nick Minaj territory, but with much more poise and charm they come off as moments of letting-off-some-steam rather than a whole persona, and they make nice inclusions in this set.
Santigold’s debut album came with the backing of several of pop music’s greatest producers, and together they created an album packed with singles that portrayed a tough and headstrong new female alt-pop star. Santi has taken years in creating the follow-up to that breakthrough and although this album is immediately appealing thanks to its pop production, after a few listens it’s apparent why she took so long. As you delve further into the various soundscapes and lyrics you will find it is richer than you may have at first appreciated. Master of My Make-Believe is not a huge leap from Santogold, but it is by no means a retread. Make Believe takes the listener from the same point A to point B as Santogold, but has no qualms about taking a completely different route, which is both more scenic and more difficult, but ultimately feels more fulfilling.