Ok, I’m trying to be objective here. Because I like “weird” music. Animal Collective and Dan Deacon made two of my favorite records last year, and neither one of them would escape the weird music moniker if held up to the blacklight of critical analyzation. M.I.A., the noisy, politically-charged London electronic hip-hopper, also falls into the same category. So, between my affinity for the weird, and all the heaps of praise she has already gotten from countless hipster blogs, NPR and a huge section of the indie music-buying populous, it’s gonna take some thorough bits of negative album breakdowns to justify my overwhelming dislike for MAYA, the third studio album from M.I.A..
And yet, my puzzled inability to embrace this messy sound collage remains. Pushing forward and listening through the whole record is an ordeal, slicing through discordant paranoia, bizarre drilling and chainsaw samples, and stale rhymes like the cliched, muscle-bound jungle explorer slashes through the jungle with a machete. The album lacks the lauded originality and cleverness exhibited in her earlier music, but even more alarmingly, it lacks more important things, like melody. Listenability. And some semblance of a point.
“They told me this was a free country/But now it feels like a chicken factory.” Uhm, what? I’m all for progressive political discourse, but, it usually comes with some sort of logic and reason. If we are to believe Ms. Maya, Google is directly connected to the government and there’s no such thing as freedom anywhere. Granted, she’s been dealing with real-world trauma throughout her life, so we can grant her goofy artist liberties. Prince said the internet was dead, and nobody’s turning off his music because of it. But, then again, Prince is still making good music.
So ignore the warped, overly suspicious rhetoric, and there’s still the music to grapple with. “Xxxo” and “Tell Me Why” have the distinction of book-ending the record with a couple serviceably decent cuts, with the former rocking heavy bass and jagged percussion over not-too-shabby vocals, and the latter foraging through pep band snare drums and layered harmonic choruses. These illustrate what has really made M.I.A. so much fun in the past: rocksteady beats and cheekiness, “start throwing hands up like you’re mad at the ceiling”.
And… tell me again why the rest of the album couldn’t have been that way? Instead we get loud, painfully-constructed capsules of nonsensical lyrics and party-stopping hullabaloo that revolves around noise intended to illustrate a feeling of disconnection. Disconnect is what I wanted to do to my headphones many times while trying to take this all in. It is addling.
One needs to look no further than the cover art, M.I.A. hidden behind a pack of angry YouTube player counters with her name spelled out in gold bricks, to get an idea of the madness behind the music. Lost somewhere in the mishmash of poor grammar, beguiling samples and irrationally suspicious lyrics is the talent that made her early music so fantastic, and let’s hope at some point it returns for at least more than two songs.