Music has changed a lot in the four years since Santigold released her self-titled debut—and in her estimation, not for the better. In recent interviews, the singer has bemoaned the state of contemporary pop, singling out LMFAO for particular derision in a chat with Pitchfork, and she teased her sophomore album Master Of My Make-Believe with “Big Mouth,” where she sings the Lady Gaga dismissal “Ga ga ga, all slightly off / Not me, I’ll take the loss.” Officially, Santigold’s beef is that modern pop is too manufactured and lacks substance, but it seems just as likely that her grudge stems from more personal concerns: Pop is stealing her act.
A bright grab bag of new wave, reggae, post-punk, and electronic dub, Santigold’s 2008 debut had unusual reach, charming indie blogs and general audiences alike, and serving as a well of samples for countless mixtapes. Four years later, though, in a post-Internet landscape where all music seems to be slowly melting into one big Gorillaz album, Santigold’s cross-genre adaptability is no longer such a novelty. Established hitmakers now regularly cross-pollinate with independent artists, and Santigold producers Diplo, Switch, and John Hill have worked their way to the front of the industry’s Rolodex, recording with stars like Beyoncé, Usher, and Rihanna.
At its most combative, Make-Believe is Santigold’s proclamation that she was here first. On the prickly opener “Go!,” she pushes back in militaristic terms against imitators who “try to pull my status, but they couldn’t fake it.” Santigold makes a more convincing case for her turf, though, when she sounds as if she has nothing to prove. The radiant pop anthem “The Keepers” and the dreamy, dubby “Disparate Youth” don’t detour from her debut’s roadmap, but their sounds are just as sweet the second time around. When the singer does tweak her formula, it’s usually to slow it down and soften it. Several tracks co-written by Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner ripple with the low-key pensiveness of that band’s prettiest songs, especially the lovely “This Riot’s Gone.” At just 11 songs and 37 minutes, Make-Believe is a modest work, short on big thrills and surprises, but generous enough with the creature comforts that made Santigold’s debut such a gem.