By Stephen Thompson, NPR Music
Hand it to Santi White: If she's pursuing stardom on a massive scale, she's forgoing the easiest routes. The artist formerly known as Santogold now calls herself Santigold, and took an eternal four years to follow her frequently dazzling debut, only to strip her second album of the ingratiating fizziness that marked songs like "Lights Out." Master of My Make-Believe, out May 1, has its playfully bouncy moments — she says it's inspired in part by a trip to Jamaica — but its overall tone is one of severity, even solemnity. It's as if pop music caught up with Santigold's sound, and she tacked left to avoid the glare.
As uncompromising in her own way as M.I.A., whose music attacks more viscerally, Santigold seems ambivalent about most everything she touches on Master of My Make-Believe — especially success, if "Fame" is any indication. Even the profanity-laced "Look at These Hoes" seems to straddle the line between loathing material excess and embracing it; in that case, the result feels deadpan to the point of half-heartedness.
With its frequent nods to island rhythms — and the aid of collaborators from old standbys Diplo and Switch to Yeah Yeah Yeahs' Karen O — Master of My Make-Believe has a sprawl to it that belies its 38-minute run time. As a result, whether a given song comes out as a jolt ("Freak Like Me") or a trot ("Pirate in the Water"), Master of My Make-Believe feels packed and filling. But fun has been edged out of the equation a bit, in favor of an emphasis on ferocity and artistry that's increasingly hard to deny.
Master of My Make-Believe will be available to stream on demand from April 23 through May 1, 20112.