Album Review: M.I.A. Maya

By Scott Kara

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From cheesy pop to extreme industrial, it's got it all - M.I.A. Photo / Supplied
From cheesy pop to extreme industrial, it's got it all - M.I.A. Photo / Supplied

Rating: 4/5
Verdict: From cheesy pop to extreme industrial, it's got it all

With her combative music and fighting words, M.I.A. is not well known for her loving side. But on Lovealot off her third album, and follow-up to 2007's excellent Kala, she proclaims herself a lover and a fighter.

"I really love a lot," she coos, "but I fight the ones who fight me."

It's a duality that sums up where the British-Sri Lankan musician, singer, rapper, producer, and mother of one is at on Maya.

On the one hand, the album features some of M.I.A.'s most accessible material, with first single XXXO as catchy and sing-a-long as she gets, and the cover of It Takes A Muscle "to fall in love", has a sunny reggae-dancehall skank to it with the loveliest lilt and sweetest sentiment she's come up with.

But there's also a more punishing industrial influence, and with a bloke like dirty dubstepper Rusko being the dominant production force, many of the tracks have a depth charge bass attack at the forefront - like the industrial strength dubstep and scuttling cockroach beats of Story To Be Told.

Meanwhile, Meds and Feds is the type of pummelling noise not heard since German music industrialists Einsturzende Neubauten were let loose on the world, or when Atari Teenage Riot were in their digitally destructive heyday.

It's hardly surprising she comes up with hammer party music like this. Her background is just as intriguing, fractious and heavy going as her music. She was born in Britain, but at an early age her family moved to their homeland of Sri Lanka (where her father was a staunch Tamil supporter and political activist). As the country's civil war intensified they moved to Chennai in India, before settling in London as refugees. And these days her music, which has been some of the most inventive and challenging of the 2000s, is as influenced by hip-hop, club culture, dancehall, and punk as it is by her political and cultural upbringing.

She named 2005's debut album Arular after her father, then 2007's excellent Kala after her mum, and now Maya after herself. As you'd expect it's predominantly about her, and the technological world she lives in ("You tweetin' me like tweety bird on ya iPhone"). Lyrically it's effortless, be it when she's spitting about a "Taleban trucker eating boiled up yucca", or using booze brands as the basis for a song ("Jonnie keep walkin', Jack does too much coke", and best of all, "I don't wanna talk about money - coz I got it, I don't wanna talk about hoochies - coz I been it", on the agitating electro-punk noise of Born Free.

Her music is polarising, because often it's hard to get past the clatter and din, but on this album more than any of them, there's something for everyone.

- NZ Herald

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