Editor’s note: the name of the new M.I.A. album is, officially, // / Y /, aka Maya. However, that title is very much ridiculous, and for all intents and purposes, I will refer to it as Maya, because… why would I call it anything else?
Let’s pretend that Kala never really existed. All of the poppy sheen that covered the album, and its singles (such as “Bird Flu” and the impressively popular and fun “Paper Planes”) have vanished. All that’s left is Maya Arulpragasam and her odd, idiosyncratic style. Therein lies the basis of her new record, Maya, an album so muddy, it retroactively forgets that she did anything before it.
All of the clips leading up to the album, and M.I.A.’s actions, suggested that she had wholly lost the plot, between the intensely gory 9-minute clip for the first single, “Born Free,” and the debacle concerning New York Times writer Lynn Hirschberg. Between those two things, and the subtlety-free album art above, suggested that she was losing her edge entirely, and had fallen victim to stardom.
But really, Maya suggests something else entirely: all of these moving parts make up a much more grand whole, in which she has forgotten most of her pop sensibilities, and replaced them with a style akin to modern punk. The album forgets the aforementioned pop sheen, and covers the record with black sludge, bringing out the lo-fi noise rock that was buried underneath Kala tracks like “Bird Flu” and “Bamboo Banga,” which is seen explicitly on the Suicide-sampling “Born Free” and the blissed out jam track “Lovalot,” where instead of making herself the centerpiece of the track, she pulls a fast one and puts herself lower in the mix than anything else you hear.
While most artist have decided to push themselves back and ignore the digital age, she’s embracing it in ways that would be hokey from any other artist. Opening track “The Message” begins with the sound of typing, which is followed by a voice talking about which bones are connected to the internet, connected to the government, connected to the neckbone, connected to the iPhone, and so on. Few artists today could pull off a line like “You’re tweeting me like tweety bird on your iPhone” on “XXXO,” but somehow she does it with a finesse that simply doesn’t make sense.
Maya has its moments where it fizzled, however, such as riddim track “It Takes A Muscle,” where she tries and stumbles in a reggae track. However, these experiments fall on eager ears, because it’s proof that instead of doing what she’s proven she can do well, she’s toying with everything that makes her as unique as she is. She experiments with her own version of dance punk over on “Teqkila,” a groove track that lasts over 6 minutes, but somehow never overstays its welcome, and with stoner rap on “Lovalot,” possibly the only song sharp enough to be the only sonic twin of “Paper Planes” present on record.
M.I.A. is still knocking on the doors of your Hummer, just like she was on Kala. However, it would seem that being nominated for an Oscar or two hasn’t softened her in the least. She’s gotten even more rough around the edges, and this is a very, very welcome thing.