With her 2008 debut Santogold, the vivacious Santi White earned more than her fair share of comparisons to M.I.A., as if pop might only have room for one high-spirited woman bringing world rhythms into the realm of electronic dance pop. On her long-awaited follow-up, however, there’s no mistaking the Philadelphia-born singer for anyone else. As impressive as that first effort was, she and partner John Hill have topped it with a boundlessly exuberant disc that should be the soundtrack of the summer.
Partners since they came together in the ska-punk band Stiffed, White and Hill are exciting producers on their own, though the in-demand talents of Diplo and Switch also add to the proceedings. Together, they bring White’s Caribbean flair to a merger of rock, reggae, pop and electronica that is utterly irrepressible in both the more driving and anthemic numbers (among them the single “Disparate Youth,” the Middle Eastern-tinged “Freak Like Me” and the rollicking “Go!” a collaboration with sister spirit Karen O) and the quieter interludes (including the lilting “The Keepers,” the rousing “God from the Machine” and the analog synth-driven “This Isn’t Our Parade”).
White may not have an especially strong or versatile voice, but her energetic personality is impossible to resist, and at a moment where too many female pop stars are disrespecting themselves and one another, her lyrical take on the familiar hip-hop topic of the pluses and perils of fame. “People want my power/ And they want my station,” she brags in “Go!” But before you can accuse her of undue braggadocio, she charmingly adds, “You could be the widget to my turbo.” This sense of humor carries the day throughout, with only “Look at These Hoes” falling flat as a regrettable bit of sexist pandering.
Santigold, Master of My Make-Believe (Atlantic)
Rating on the four-star scale: 3.5 stars.