M.I.A. – Matangi
by Mike Doub (Psychology), published November 6th 2013
Moldy | Stale | Edible | Fresh | Tasty!
In a lot of ways the M.I.A. of 2013 resembles the M.I.A. of 2010, the year her last album was released. In both years M.I.A., born Maya Arulpragasm, was embroiled in controversy leading up to her album drops. 2010 M.I.A. was suffering from backlash regarding a negative feature in the Times and her childish response of posting the writer’s phone number on Twitter. Meanwhile, today’s M.I.A. faces a million-dollar lawsuit for flipping off the NFL during last year’s Super Bowl half-time show. Additionally, both albums – 2010’s /\/\ /\ Y /\ and the recently-released Matangi – weren’t wanting in skeptics. The latter LP was decried as “too positive” by label Interscope and delayed an entire year, while /\/\ /\ Y /\ was a critical and commercial disaster. Detractors tore apart M.I.A.’s paranoid conspiracy mongering, and mainly the album’s disorganized, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink sonics.
For fans spurned by the sound of that record though, Matangi will be a breath of fresh air. It tinkers with the same musical palette as /\/\ /\ Y /\, but this time trades in chaos for a more unified aesthetic. Matangi is a collection of twisted Eastern-leaning dance numbers with heavy electronics and drums. If that sounds like Santigold, points to you, though M.I.A. succeeds where her counterpart doesn’t in avoiding the easy hook. On “Double Bubble Trouble,” the singer takes a slow reggae number and upends it with a dubstep-esque build and a wild, percussive coda. Later the stuttering, well-named blitzkrieg of a song “Bring the Noize” destroys everything in its wake. Lyrically this is the same M.I.A. we’ve always known, albeit more boastful. She spits rapidfire brags and references to home, and her vocal layering technique on many of these songs makes them dense, rewarding experiences.
The main problem here, though, is that this is the same M.I.A. we’ve always known. Namely in that, as on /\/\ /\ Y /\, she’s still frequently full of crap. For example, M.I.A. recently claimed that her “references are beyond the industry” on Matangi, named after the Hindu goddess of music. But she said this in promotion of an album that attacks Drake (“Y.A.L.A.,” an anagram for “you always live again”), has it-producer Hit Boy (of “Gentlemen of Color in Paris” and “Clique” fame) on three tracks and twice features samples from popular R&B scumbag the Weeknd. And like Russell Brand in his recent Newsnight interview, M.I.A.’s lyrics often depict her as a malcontent without a plan. When she utters lines like “If you’re gonna be me, you need a manifesto” on the album’s title track, it’s hard not to wish Arulpragasm would follow through.
Matangi boasts solid electronics, like the title track’s tribal drum swagger and Hit Boy’s cluttered global beat on “Only 1 U.” Then there’s “Bad Girls,” a bonafide anthem where M.I.A.’s rebelliousness and ear for melody collide with great results. But for every head-turning sonic detail here, there’s a moment like M.I.A. rattling off the rhyming names of world nations. Or dated references to Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Or the especially stupid lyric, “I’m so tangy/people call me Matanghi.” That’s the problem with polarizing characters like M.I.A.: they sometimes end up being their own music’s worst enemy.
Recommended Tracks: “Only 1 U,” “Bad Girls,” “Bring the Noize”