Monday, July 12, 2010


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M.I.A. wasn't always known primarily as a culture-hacking, sociopolitical lightning rod. Her wildly inventive, musically polyglot 2005 debut “Arular” highlighted her agit-prop worldview, but it was couched in such a conspiratorial blend of world musics that the politics were merely in cahoots with its dance directive. After the worldwide apoplexy over “Paper Planes” in 2007, M.I.A. seemed to have sobered her game up. Signing on as the global icon for the politics of oppression can't be much fun, pastel fashion sense notwithstanding. So no surprise then that her music isn't much fun anymore either. Here a team of trailblazing producers have distilled her stridency into a willfully defiant blast zone of discordant electro hip hop that occasionally sounds like they're transcribing an Adbusters editorial on a drum machine. “Steppin Up” is an aggressively demonstrative example with its looping power tool rhythm and hurtling bomb whistle effects, while “Born Free” is thrashy, lo-fi synthpunk that antagonizes with its artful dishevelment. Mercifully, “It Takes A Muscle” is a grooving dancehall romance, while “Teqkilla” utilizes M.I.A.'s trademark playfully-menacing sing-song flow. But like “Xxxo”, which leavens the clamoring production racket with a captivating hook, it's dirtied up with song-obscuring noise. On much of this purposefully inaccessible, but still vital and compelling record, it's M.I.A.'s way of having her pop cake and suicide-bombing it too. (Out tomorrow).


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