Album Review: M.I.A. - Matangi

Album Reviews
Gerrit Feenstra

Finally. This week, that's probably the only thought that comes to mind as M.I.A. sees her fourth LP hit shelves. It's just shy of three years since we first heard a sample of "Bad Girls" on Maya's new year's eve Vicki Leekx mixtape. Now, the song has been an international hit for over a year and a half. At the end of last year, we finally heard an update: the album was in limbo for because it didn't maintain the rebellious social image that Interscope had helped her build up to this point. Remember that back in 2010, everyone thought Maya was crazy for dropping all the government conspiracy imagery into her very challenging third LP MAYA (most of which has, at this point, come true). But with some edits and another fantastic single in the form of "Bring the Noize", we finally got a hard date for the record. And now, Matangi is here in all of its eclectic glory. To answer your question, yes, Matangi was absolutely worth the wait. M.I.A. continues to push boundaries lyrically while keeping her production as unique and progressive as ever.

The biggest complaint about M.I.A.'s last album Maya was that it was all politics without much musical substance. One thing's for sure: that record upped the noise factor. The record opens with "Steppin Up", whose primary instrument is a power drill, and rounds out the third quarter with the Suicide sampling "Born Free" and Sleigh Bells feature "Feds and Meds", both with enough noise to rattle your brain free from its casing. Matangi finds better balance, with Maya sticking to her guns lyrically, but returning to a more danceable palette of sounds like the one we saw on Kala. The album's title track opens with an expected amount of dizzying and conflicting drum samples, all combined to create a driving tribal chant of a track. But halfway through, Maya pulls the floor out from under you and the track collapses into the heaviest, grimiest dub track we've seen her yet. It doesn't take five minutes for her to silence every naysayer coming to the album to pop shots. "Only 1 U" and "Warriors" both drop slow burn hip-hop tracks that scream a deafening message of individual empowerment.

Later on the record, we see M.I.A. give us more accessible textures than she's put forth in a while. The album's ever present singles "Bad Girls" and "Bring The Noize" both provide energetic pop brilliance, while "Double Bubble Trouble" gives us another tear-the-roof-off dub track and "Y.A.L.A." hints at the brighter M.I.A. production we saw on her older records, while laying down ground rules for Drake's now ubiquitous motto. But Maya is always most impressive when she's on the cutting edge of whatever is on her mind, and that's what makes "Come Walk With Me" the album's biggest takeaway. The track is like "All You Need Is Love" for the globalized, post-Internet generation. The opening mantra lays down a level playing field on which Maya calls for universal love and a meeting place, before the track explodes into a psychedelic jungle banger. It's here that M.I.A. stands in her own category, taking a pro-social, politically engaging message of understanding to the masses underneath the most furious dance beat you've heard in the last year.

As usual, there are lyrical spots on Matangi that will push you to your human boundaries. "Boom" gives us a sweeping overview of modern racism in the United States, all in under a minute and a half. "Exodus" and "Sexodus", both of which sample The Weeknd's Thursday classic "Lonely Star", question the end goal of affluence and fame. But more than anything else, Matangi spells all of the complicated problems of the world out in terms of karma. For every reaction, there is a reaction, and M.I.A. has a beautiful gift for allowing us to see both sides of this relationship.

Musically, it's a crying shame that Interscope held onto this record for so long. A year ago, the 2-step brilliance of "atTENTion" would have come ahead of Disclosure's deep house revival, and the trap/dub brilliance of "Matangi" and "Double Bubble Trouble" would have been riding on the genre's cutting edge. That's not to say that the record seems late - it's still as fresh as can be. But now, it's easy to see the frustration that Maya has displayed towards her label and to the media. Regardless, Matangi is chalk full of electronic brilliance in tried and true M.I.A. form.

Matangi is out this week on Interscope. If you want to listen to more, Maya has put the entire record up on YouTube. Maya has not announced a full tour in support of Matangi yet, so keep your eyes peeled.

Related News & Reviews

Agitated Atmosphere Album Reviews

Agitated Atmosphere: Circuit Des Yeux - Overdue

As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosp…

Read More
Album Reviews

Album Review: Cut Copy - Free Your Mind

With a bright blue mantra and neon promise to boot, Cut Copy return this year with their fourth LP Free Your Mind. Dan Whitford and the gang don't seem to be slowing down much in their second decade together. Zonoscope, the band's 2011 award-winning classic, took the band's one of a kind combinatio…

Read More