Release Date: Nov 5, 2013
Record label: Interscope
Maya Arulpragasam’s music has finely enmeshed the personal and the political, using her multi-varied upbringing—daughter of an activist with possible ties to the Sri Lankan militant group Tamil Tigers who moves to the UK and becomes involved in London’s Britpop and hip-hop scenes—to bracing effect. She urged the world to pay attention to the plight of African and Asian citizens, and the diaspora, just as she urged you to lean into her club-ready bangers. On her fourth album, M.I.A.’s focus has shifted.
After openly announcing one’s retirement only to retract the decision two years later via a critically divisive album met with comparatively muted praise (still considered by many to be a slight misfire and the obvious weak candidate in a pretty short legacy), it’s safe to assume that the post-comeback comeback has to be an absolute killer. It is with that burden of pressure that M.I.A. releases her fourth full length effort, Matangi.
Review Summary: M.I.A.'s coming back with power power.M.I.A.'s fourth full-length arrives nearly a year late in the wake of numerous disputes between the Sri-Lankan artist and Universal. The problem with the forthcoming endeavor seemed easy to decipher as yet another attempt at making the music as commercially viable as possible. After all, Maya Arulpragasam's previous offering was an uncompromising take on the Internet era that baffled many listeners with its abrasive mesh-up of various styles and overall disdain for melody.
It bears repeating that if the media cognoscenti hate you, you’re doing something right. That MIA was also pilloried for something so stupendously banal as flipping off the Super Bowl only proves she is a virtual virtuoso at excavating hypocrisy. Her new album is titled Matangi, after—a little predictably—the tantric goddess of music and learning, but curiously enough, it’s also her proper given name.
M.I.A.'s new album Matangi could be called shrill, grating, bratty. But has that ever been a problem when it comes to sparkling, stellar pop?Channeling an energy that's tons of fun while digging deep into a kaleidoscopic range of music, Maya Arulpragasam dispatches whatever memories of truffle fries and questionable videos you might have with an album that should be played at full volume, even at its most relaxed. From the kickoff "Karmageddon" to the appropriately named "Bring the Noize" and the relaxed head-nod-inducing "Lights," the whole thing is loud, brash and terrific.Lodged in the centre of the album, the tune "Bad Girls" stands up; it's as good today as it was 2012.
A year ago, already 12 months into its elephantine gestation, MIA’s record label rejected an early draft of ‘Matangi’ for sounding “too happy”. Happy may be music biz-speak for “crap”, but either way, after two drafts and a threat from the artist to leak it herself, the happiness problem is now cured. Instead, ‘Matangi’ is sparse, cold steel.
She may not have released an album since 2010, but Maya Arulpragasam has certainly had a busy three years. Whether it be outraging American TV networks by showing a middle finger to the camera during the Superbowl, making ill-advised remarks on Twitter about serving cups of tea and Mars Bars to the London rioters, arguing with her record company, or guesting with Nicki Minaj on a Madonna song, M.I.A. has hardly been out of the public eye.
The second track on the new MIA album – both are called Matangi – opens with garbled vocals and a hair-raising scream. Over clattering percussion, the singer chants the names of 40 or more countries seemingly at random: Bali, Mali, Chile, Malawi. She refers to herself as ice cream, talks about guns pointing the wrong way and informs the listener that "if you're gonna be me you need a manifesto/ If you ain't got one you better get one, presto".
Maya Arulpragasam's fourth album arrives nearly a year late, amid stories of disputes between the artist and US record company Universal. You might have thought you could easily work out what the problem was. Arulpragasam's last album, 2010's Maya, was as disorientating and original as anything she's done as MIA, but it was also a grey, tuneless affair.
Lets get this out the way, ‘/\/\ /\ Y /', was a bit of a confused hiccup in M.I.A’s output. Messy, incoherent, and suspicious of more or less everything, its aim was to capture the paranoid mood of an age build upon the Internet. Everything M.I.A had to say was valid – even more so in the light of recent revelations about the N.S.A. The presentation, though, was at best destabilising.This record is very deliberately titled after M.I.A’s birth name.
If Maya Arulpragasam were a character in a movie, she’d be accused of being too on the nose. Of being too obvious a representation of earnest but aimless anti-establishment sentiments. Of her background being written to falsely suggest authority over the topics she rails against, topics over which she seems to have only a rudimentary grasp. Of being, basically, unbelievable.
In the music video to 'Bad Girls', the first single from M.I.A.'s fourth album Matangi, women wearing printed chadors and headscarves take the wheels of expensive saloon cars, pulling all manner of stunts on dusty Moroccan roads. Their most impressive trick is 'skiing', driving almost horizontally balanced on two wheels, a feat made all the more impressive by their daredevil passengers standing on top of the car doors. The idea for the shoot, according to director Romain Gavras who also worked with M.I.A.
Last week, M.I.A. kicked off her latest tour with a little help from Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who Skyped in from the Ecuadorian embassy in London (his home in exile for the last 16 months) to inform a sold-out crowd at New York’s Terminal 5 that he’s a fan. “I have become a fan of M.I.A.,” Assange explained, “because I think she is the most courageous woman working in western music, without exception.” Flipping the bird at the Superbowl half-show with a shrug, spouting caustic clairvoyance of a Google “connected to the government,” flashing her contradictions like jewelry (oh, these truffle fries?), Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam certainly isn’t boring.
Rap music has always functioned as the voice of the Other, allowing artists to forcefully confirm or combat social stereotypes through free-flowing torrents of expressive wordplay. This makes it the perfect medium for M.I.A., an outsider in a genre full of outsiders, a faux-radical female Brit sprung from a Southeast Asian background. Exaggerating and eroticizing her differentiating qualities, she's crafted a fiercely formidable persona with its own set of unique associations, one that has commodified cultural dissent as a means of antagonistic expression, tapping into a long tradition of musical rebellion.
The anticipation for M.I.A.'s fourth album, Matangi, has been building since last year, with her label postponing the release date over and over. M.I.A. threatened to leak the whole thing herself and whetted appetites by sharing tracks from Matangi for months. Named after the Tantric form of the goddess of music and learning, Matangi—which also happens to be M.I.A.'s full real first name—has all the distinct M.I.A.
"I don't pay attention to what's happening now," M.I.A. said in an interview a few weeks before the release of her notoriously-long-delayed fourth album, Matangi, "My references are beyond the [music] industry….I'm talking about the goddess Matangi, who invented music 5,000 years ago." That line is quintessential M.I.A.: artfully provocative, magnificently over-it ("If you don’t give a fuck," she declared in a pixelated deadpan on her last mixtape, "Then I don’t give a damn"), and difficult to square with a fact-checker. The Sri-Lankan-born, London-bred artist has hyped Matangi as her "spiritual album," and, sure, there are plenty of references to the titular Hindu goddess and other Eastern-spiritual phenomena throughout its 15 tracks.
If Maya Arulpragasam has a persecution complex, she's earned it. "Let you into Super Bowl/You tried to steal Madonna's crown/What the fuck you on about?" she spits on "Boom Skit," conjuring her haters: generic racists, critical magazine profilers, and the NFL litigators reportedly suing her for $1.5 mil for her bird-flip during her 2012 halftime performance with Madonna. It's a telling moment on her fourth LP, a mixtape-style mash-up of political provocations, ripostes, tough-gal love songs, neon DJ memes and ass-whooping South Asian-spiced beats.
M.I.A. described her fourth album as the soundtrack to the spiritual awakening that followed the personal turmoil surrounding 2010's underrated /\/\ /\ Y /\. Compared with that record's middle-finger-to-the-pop-charts scuzzy guitar and grinding distortion, Matangi sounds more considered. Unsurprisingly, the pop agitator has found bliss in her signature amalgam of bhangra, rap, reggae and Baltimore club music.
Four albums into M.I.A.'s career, it's arguable that success may have been the worst thing to happen to her music. After "Paper Planes"' breakthrough, Maya Arulpragasam seemed determined to appear ever more rebellious in the face of increasing mainstream acceptance; her one-finger salute during the Super Bowl half-time show while performing with Madonna and Nicki Minaj was a perfect example. That attitude trickled down to her music: /\/\/\Y/\'s abrasive electronics, which reflected her mistrust of the information age, were equal parts tedious and thrilling.
How much we can ever learn about an artist through her music is an open question, but it’s counterintuitive for even a contrarian like M.I.A. that the two albums she named after herself—2010’s /\/\/\Y/\ and her latest Matangi—seem to shed less and less light on who Mathangi Arulpragasam is, not just as a person, but as an artist. While M.I.A.
Though, as purported, Matangi takes its name from the Hindu god of rebirth, M.I.A’s fourth studio album is no reinvention. Other than a newly beefed-up low end, there’s nothing here we haven’t seen before from her, and the album’s exceptional quality is also nothing new for the Sri Lankan. Though a marginally lesser album than predecessor MAYA, Matangi is nevertheless dynamite.
Whether it’s a public beef with Diplo or tweeting the personal cell phone number of New York Times writer Lynn Hirschberg, M.I.A. has made a lucrative career out of being a successful whippersnapper (not everyone gets to play the Superbowl half-time show you know, M.I.A., fingers and Bruce crotch slides aside).So integral has her bad-ish girl stature become that apparently her new album, Matangi, was held up by the label for being “too positive,” to which she responded by not-playing nice and threatening to leak the record. So yes, M.I.A.
“Alarms go off when I enter the building,” says M.I.A. late on “Matangi,” her fourth album and second (following 2010’s “Maya”) drawing its title from her own name. But while the English/Sri Lankan rapper still likes to think of herself as a provocateuse, she perhaps recognizes that there are limits to how far that can take you as a recording career progresses.
M.I.A. Matangi (Interscope) January 2012: Maya Arulpragasam emerges from sulking "retirement" with the Middle Eastern-laced, speaker-blowing single "Bad Girls." Political, pervasive, and imminently catchy, it repeats the formula that launched the Sri Lankan rapper's 2007 sophomore LP Kala up the charts. Now, after butting heads with Universal for over a year after its release, the single's companion album finally arrives.
As early as 2004, an acquaintance leaned over to me during an M.I.A. show and sneered: "She's totally faux, you know." Accusations of inauthenticity rumbled away in the background even as she progressed from hipster cult audiences to international recognition - and they seemed to come to a head during an infamous New York Times interview with Lynn Hirschberg in 2010, as M.I.A. was gearing up to release her third album, /\/\/\Y/\.
At a New York release party for her new album "Matangi," M.I.A. brought a special guest onstage — WikiLeaks' Julian Assange. He Skyped an introduction to the show from his longtime temporary home inside the Ecuadorean Embassy in London. The gesture was meant to shore up her radical bona-fides and continue her work at the edges of politics, technology, performance art and music.