M.I.A. is something of a pop anomaly. A Sri Lankan born, British refugee whose crossover moment came at the 2009 Grammys – aged 33 and heavily pregnant. It was here; backed by the rap illuminati of Kanye West, Jay Z and Lil Wayne that she performed -Swagger Like Us’, making her mark at the heart of the mainstream.
Despite the resulted hype that followed (journalistic spats, ridiculous Time Magazine merits, etc.), third album // / Y / ( or eh, MAYA to you and me), sees her produce her finest LP to date.
From its YouTube inspired cover art, to the viral sensation of -Born Free’ (see video below), MAYA has been made for the information age. Introductory piece -The Message’ plays on the rhyme of -Dem Bones’, where the ‘head bone’s now connected to the iphone, and the Google connected to the government’. Similarly the Ã¼ber-slick R n’ B of -XXXO’, with its references to “tweeting like Tweety-Bird”, rises and falls by its txt speak chorus.
If M.I.A.’s intrigue with the Internet were this record’s only notable feature, it would serve as little more than synthetic hipster fluff, doomed to date within months of its release. However, armed with an arsenal of genre-bending samples, and helmed by the fearless production by Rusko, MAYA is a brave affair.
Abrasive delights such as -Meds and Feds’, with its filthier than thou grunge guitar, as well as the Suicide -sampling -Born Free’, show M.I.A. to have the best snarl this side of John Lydon. Amongst these punishing paint-strippers, she also finds space for her pop sensibility: the hazy reggae interlude, -It Takes A Muscle’, and dream-pop closer -Space’, suggesting she should put her voice to melodic use more often.
Rather than being obscured by one standout single (as in the case of 2007’s Kala, and its omnipresent -Paper Planes’), MAYA is a well-crafted collection that improves with each listen. If you buy only one Sri-Lankan refugee album this year make it this one.