Jeff Moody

What’s It Gonna Be, M.I.A?

By - Jul 21st, 2010 08:45 am
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Whether by purpose or by accident, Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s performance of “Born Free” on David Letterman last week succinctly summed up her current state of affairs.

M.I.A. performed with a clone army, nearly a dozen or so M.I.A. lookalikes and dressalikes who all performed the song in unison. As I watched, I thought about her new elpee “MAYA” and thought “yeah…which one is really you?” Including Suicide’s Martin Rev punching a Farfisa organ in the nuts earned her some NYC cool points and is a nice tip of the cap to her electroclash forebears, but wasn’t enough to make the song or the performance as great as I’ve come to expect from her.

“MAYA,” simply put, is a mess of electronic trash and poorly thought out politics. The difference between this new one and her two previous elpeez, “Arular,” her quite good debut and “Kala,” her excellent follow up is that, in the past, she somehow arranged the bits of electronic trash into things that eventually resembled songs. Her ability to make noise and take noise and turn it into something that makes sense is her genius.

Until now, I thought that she may be the best sound-collage artist since Public Enemy destroyed all of the competition between 1988 and 1994. She took risks on the first two records, inventing her own style by gene-splicing sounds from around the world. On “MAYA,” the emphasis is less on song and more on form; she is obviously going for a more aggressive sound, but with no real ideas behind the bombast and not much rhythm to keep things glued together. “XXXO” is one of the few things here that resembles “song” and too much so… it would fit right into a KISS-FM playlist more comfortably than anything she’s ever done, standing in stark contrast to the rest of the elpee. It’s the one track where she seems to have relented and gave the suits at Interscope what they wanted.

So what is “MAYA”? It’s M.I.A. in a state of flux. Will she be a Pop Freedom-Fighter or a mere entertainer? I’d like to see her become the new Joe Strummer (we need one) but she needs to bring some chops, some fully fleshed out ideas, and let the light at least equal the heat next time around.

Categories: Other-views, Stripwax

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