April 26, 2012

Jonah Bromwich advises you to treat yo’ self.

A little while back, candidate Leslie Knope, aspiring city councilwoman and deputy director of the Pawnee Parks and Recreation department learned a valuable lesson. After being upstaged by an opponent at a fundraising opportunity, she complained that her idea (ramps for seniors) had come first, before her opponent’s “electric lifts for seniors” plan. Her opponent responded, “You know what people don’t care about? They don’t care about whose idea was first. They care about whose idea was best.”

I don’t know if Terius Nash or Santi White watch Parks and Recreation but it’s a lesson that neither of them seems to have picked up on. Nash, a.k.a. The-Dream has been sing-griping since last year that “he created the sound” that acts such as Frank Ocean and The Weeknd are trading on. And White, who is just now following up her debut album from 2008, has not been shy about her disdain for modern pop. “People want my power, and they want my station” she sings on last year’s Karen O assisted “GO!.” “Try to pull my status, but they couldn’t fake it.”

The DNA of White’s debut, Santogold, has a lot in common with today’s female-powered pop. It’s got a huge hip/hop/electronic influence, pulled together into maximalist beats, over which the then-Santogold was able to use the tremendous range of her eerie voice to play with both aggressive and plaintive sounds. But so what? No one cares who did it first. All that matters is who does it best.

Master of My Make Believe makes a strong play at that title. When she’s not taking shots at imagined opponents on songs like “Look at these Hoes” and “Big Mouth” Santigold is capable of making pretty incredible pop songs. Ignore the overarching implications of “GO!” and the song becomes a potent lead-off hit, a summery blast of energy with exploding drums at regular intervals. Santi has an incredible gift for pop song-structures—making every segment of her songs a hook in its own right is a trick she understood early. Her other single “Disparate Youth” comes in sounding like “Bedrock” and has a hook that resembles a song from Mulan, but the majority of the track is built from scratch. Bass chords are threaded through drums to create a dynamic pattern which supports some jagged micro-riffs and Santi in her lowest register. “Fame” and “The Keepers” are also worthwhile tunes, the former a confessional banger and the latter an update of Kim Wilde for a new millennium of curators.

It’s amazing that Santi’s sound, which sounded so busy just a couple years ago, now seems relatively stripped down in comparison to the maximalist dance frenzy of today’s top forty. A pair of simple, melodic singles near the middle of the album are two of the best tracks that Master of My Make Believe offers. “This isn’t Our Parade” is sad and pretty, verses accompanied by soothing murmurs and an afrobeat chorus that coaxes the addressee to “come down” because “this isn’t our parade.” “The Riot’s Gone” investigates similar themes, as White channels late period Gwen Stefani, cooing “I’ve been looking for a fight…trying to loose the wild inside, but it’s got no place to go. I’m searching for an angle on a cause I can’t defend.”

When Santi shows that kind of vulnerability, and doesn’t complain about copycat competition, she’s winning. When she starts to kvetch, she just sounds like a sore loser, as on the relatively empty “Look At These Hoes” on which she kicks empty Azealia Banks type taunts to assorted, faceless rivals. And “Big Mouth” which is about half an inch away from being a good song, falters on the chorus, as Gaga bait leads to a catchless hook.

Apart from those missteps, White shows that she’s still got the instincts and the voice that made Santogold a perennial favorite. She also demonstrates a good feel for the zeitgeist, combining sentiments like “we all want the fame” with “this isn’t our parade” and echoing the narcissism and insecurity of thousands of millenials. She may not much resemble Leslie Knope, but Santi White is worthy of your vote. Or, at the very least, a couple of listens.



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