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Music Review: /\/\ /\ Y /\

July 13, 2010
M.I.A.

M.I.A. performing at Out Side Lands Music & Arts Festival. August 30, 2009. Image courtesy of Maria Guzman.

A week prior to its July 13th release, M.I.A.’s new album, /\/\/\Y/\ (or Maya), was made available streaming on the artist’s MySpace page. The agitprop-meets-cyberpunk video for “Born Free” is the most inspiring thing I’ve seen all year (a clear indication that M.I.A.’s message is as much visual as it is aural), and my guess was that her latest effort would be the most overtly conceptual album that M.I.A. has recorded.

The first track, “The Message,” begins with the sound of keyboard strokes that reminded me of early alternative rock heroes R.E.M. and experimental musician John Cage. It creates a rhythmic paranoid beat laid over a mechanical nursery rhyme. A male voice suggests that the body is no longer private property, and spells it out for the “connected” listener: “Headbone connects to the headphone/Headphones connect to the iPhone/iPhone connected to the internet/Connected to the Google/Connected to the government.”

“Steppin Up” will appeal to fans of Kala. It mixes laser and power drill sound effects with a melodic reggae pace while asserting an increasingly cyborgian identity. “Teqkilla” recalls “Boyz” for its hyperactive layers of hip-hop hooks and fluctuating vocals. This is a sexy club song, and would be the closest that M.I.A. settles into mood music.

Although she is stretching choruses and pressing the temporal limits of pop music, M.I.A. still has a knack for constructing tighter melodies, and proves it on “XXXO.” This track is about unrequited love, and calls a potential lover out for his down-low tweets. It’s a beat-heavy examination of familiar odes to obsessive love.

/\/\/\Y/\ is definitely weirder than M.I.A.’s previous recordings, and it will be interesting to see where critics of her ability to balance political and aesthetic ambitions go with this album. Will the media continue to castigate M.I.A. for going too far beyond the pop star galaxy with her overt political agenda? If so, I just hope M.I.A. doesn’t go the way of pop feminist icon Madonna and, in the words of bell hooks, “return to patriarchy.”

Cross posted at Feminist Review

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7 Comments
  1. Julie Bartkiewicz permalink
    July 13, 2010 7:55 pm

    I really want to like MIA. Unfortunately her head has been up her arse since that horrible “Who Wants to be a Bollywood Star” movie came out.
    Her little rants about how much better than Gaga she is also don’t sit well with me. A real artist would not have to attack someone elses work to justify their own…Shes just another half way pop star in actuality.

  2. July 14, 2010 9:54 am

    I recommend Lynn Hirschberg’s M.I.A. article: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/30/magazine/30mia-t.html?pagewanted=all

    Nevermind her politics, cheers to her new record. It’s queer, it’s powerful, it’s just fun.

  3. Maria Guzman permalink*
    July 14, 2010 10:47 am

    I thought that Lynn Hirshberg’s article was actually sort of enjoyable. Her critique was fairly embedded but it was clear that she had a strict understanding of what an entertainer should be-it’s what made me think of bell hooks’ discussion about Madonna, who is still very much the measure of success for women in music.

    Many artists feel that they have to either step into or outside of the sexy approach, and I like M.I.A.’s ability to sidestep that. What’s funny is that her tendency to go beyond vaguely “ethnic” is what seems to rub people the wrong way. I mean, have you ever read an article that uses the site of a child’s birth and the food ordered as proof that someone is a fake or insincere?

  4. John permalink
    July 15, 2010 12:32 pm

    This review gives a really great analysis of what can be expected from this LP and how it expands upon the work of her contemporaries and predecessors. Definitely an artist I will look into now.

  5. Maria Guzman permalink*
    July 15, 2010 1:39 pm

    Hi John,

    Thank you for that comment! Just to add to the references-there are a few specific artists that came to mind when I was listening to this more experimental album: R.E.M.’s “Exhuming McCarthy,” which is a kindred song that critiques American capitalist practices. You can view it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x2wET1OlK4Q.

    Also, believe it or not, Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator.” Check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MobpPTVobOk.

    As for vocals, punk for sure, but specifically the agitated and charismatic vocals from early Liquid Liquid songs, “Cavern” being the most well-known one. Here’s the video, which reminds me of the colorful approach that M.I.A. uses in reference to hip-hop culture: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IL45YOtbuy0. Sidenote: This song was on the “Downtown 81” soundtrack, which starred Jean-Michel Basquiat, a central figure in the graffiti/street art scene.

    Cheers,
    Maria

  6. Mike Greenacre permalink
    July 15, 2010 2:22 pm

    Hi, this is the first time I’ve got onto this site. ‘Gender Across Borders’ means across sexual borders too? Men can/are considered feminists through their beliefs/actions?

  7. Maria Guzman permalink*
    July 15, 2010 6:26 pm

    Yes, definitely, and welcome to the site 🙂 Here’s one of the many articles that you can find regarding the inclusive nature of this philosophy: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/23/world/europe/23iht-letter.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2

    Cheers,
    Maria

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