Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Album Review: M.I.A. - /\/\ /\ Y /\

M.I.A. has definitely not been one of my favorite artists ever, admitting that is easy for me. To be honest I can only recall liking two songs before this, "Paper Planes" and "Bamboo Banger". I have a feeling that she's bound to grow on me much like Major Lazer did a couple months back, and if there was an album to promote this growth, it's MAYA.

I've actually done some reading up on what the community thinks of M.I.A.'s new work, and it seems that a good amount of people think that there is inconsistency in MAYA. I actually disagree to a large extent on that criticism. From my end, this is a consistent album, full of danceable, beat driven songs, and I definitely feel that the inconsistent remarks come from the fact that not all these songs fall on the same wavelength as far as energy, some are slower and some are fast, but if that's inconsistency, then I've definitely got issues with our definitions.

One thing I can definitely remark on MAYA is that M.I.A. takes somewhat of a passenger seat to the music, hardly ever taking control of the song rather than working with the beat to make a neat, tight package. What M.I.A. is saying is usually some sort of commentary, social or political, but you might be boogying too much to notice.

The album kicks into gear with "The Message", a nice opening track with electro-tribal beating with a british man telling us "Headphones connected to the iPhone, iPhone connected to the Google, Google connected to the Government." Trust me, I hardly like social commentary, especially when it's coming from someone that is most likely hypocritical towards all her own messages, it's just that I can't muster the hate with all the awesome sound coming with it! "Steppin up" continues the interesting sound with a heavy dance beat full of power-tool noise and huge bumps and bangs. Something I've noticed about M.I.A.'s beats, for the most part they are spacious in their heaviness, never feel excessively crowded, which is probably something I can definitely get behind, as there are places where somebody else would want to add ticks and excessive noise to add more club possibilities. "XXXO" is my least favorite track on the album, with probably the most club-friendly beat, and an annoying course that sounds like it's stripped from a Britney Spears song telling us "You want me to be somebody who I'm really not", it sounds conceited and stupid, which is why I really wish I could delete this song from the album all-together.

The album as a whole has a electronic-fed-tribal feel to me, something I definitely have learned to embrace, where as I believe I resisted it on Kala. Bongo, maraca, djembe, among others seem to appear in songs, adding to the aforementioned spacious feel that her songs have. "It Takes a Muscle" is a nice dub-ish jam that is definitely smile worthy with it's hook revolving around a light dick joke. You can definitely feel the production that Rusko brought to the album, adding light dubstep elements to most songs, once again adding to the heaviness I spoke of earlier, and adding to why I dig this album so much. "Born Free" is definitely my favorite track on the album, it's a heavily drum and bass driven track that would feel right at home sitting next to BADASS in the dictionary. As with most of the album her vocals work with the track, fitting next to it, not on top, making her more of an instrument rather than a vocalist.

You can feel influence all over the album, as if M.I.A. grabbed a piece from everyone she's worked with in the past. I get a The Very Best vibe from "Tell Me Why", a lovely track with a chopped african sounding choir in the background with light sitar and snare drum adding excess flavor. "Space" rounds off the final corner of the official album with a not surprisingly airy and spacious beat that somehow feels cultural in indescribable ways. It's a nice way to finish off a sometimes heavy, sometimes abrasive, and sometimes lovely album.

As for the four bonus tracks, they feel right at home and not as if they were after-thoughts. "Internet Connection" is one of my favorite tracks on the album as a whole, feeling light-heartedly stupid and at the same time danceable and cool. "Caps Lock" ends the deluxe edition of the album in the same way that "Space" would have, except in a somewhat more somber tone that does remind me strangely of Kid Cudi's "Pursuit of Happiness", it's light and calming, yet deep and melancholy.

By the time I've finished writing all these paragraphs about the album, I can say that M.I.A. has grown on me in a way, proving her ability to create culturally influenced elctronica-dance music.
I can't say if she's grown since Kala, I wouldn't know, but what I can say is that she has definitely figured her sound out, and is good at flexing it in the right ways. While some songs slip into the lower levels of consciousness and fail to work fully, there is an understanding in MAYA, telling me less about her political views that she tries a whole album to express, and more about her knowledge in music making that I understated from the begging, for that, and not for what she has to actually say, is why I give MAYA the props it deserves.
Album Rating: 8.6 - 10
-Matt Galey

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