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Music Review: M.I.A. – Maya

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“I don’t wanna talk about money, cuz I got it,” spits M.I.A. on “Born Free,” an anarchic and insistent cut from her new album. Maya, stylized as /\/\/\Y/\, is the British performer’s third studio record. It’s a powerful statement of intent, a blistering symphony of brutal noise and sudden beauty that runs through Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam’s last few years of activism, motherhood and existence.

Information politics serve to be the record’s largest theme, as the cover adorns the singer with YouTube bars and other fragments of internet tech. The shattering of society’s collectiveness through the internet and the inevitable forces of isolation are the backbone of Maya, but M.I.A. makes it more personal by elaborating on her experiences and showcasing that signature courage she wears so well.

The British-Tamil musician gave birth to her son, Ikyhd, in February 2009 and motherhood has done even more to shape her thoughtful considerations for the future. On the record, M.I.A. laments the lack of real information and wonders where her son will be able to find the truth in these days of “information” overload. The “digital chaos” we exist in on a daily basis proves a fascinating core.

The frenetic rap of Kala is built on with some surprisingly tender vocals, making the follow-up to M.I.A.’s 2007 smash a broader album. She works with concepts of noise rock, hip hop, reggae, and traditional pop to blend her signature “style” together into a relatively cohesive conception. At the same time, pinning down Maya, album or artist, can be hard to do.

The aforementioned “Born Free” is the record’s lead single. Known broadly for its “controversial” music video, the song is a broiling force of potent lyrics and unrelenting energy. M.I.A. never lets up, crashing and banging between traditional rap braggadocio and stunningly vulnerable lyricism.

“Steppin Up” is kind of a vanity track, but it fits snugly in the realm of our me-first culture with more methods for self-promotion than could ever be wanted by even the most needy of individuals. With plenty of YouTube opportunities to demonstrate even the most mundane of our daily activities to a worldwide audience of moon-faced, drooling witnesses prepped to hammer down disturbingly obsessive commentary along the way, M.I.A.’s take is capaciously self-centered.

“XXOO” splits in another direction. M.I.A. sings and the cut has a cool dance groove. Featuring production by Leeds’ Rusko, it’s a satisfying club-banger.

Much of Maya is concerned with the digital chaos of the hilariously-named “information age” and the musician’s grit shines through in the best moments. The noisy agit-pop of cuts like “Teqkilla” blends perfectly into the deliciously slinky snark of “Lovealot,” creating a collage of smartly pugnacious imagery with lines like, “They told me this is a free country, now it feels like a chicken factory.”

It’s easy to dismiss certain artists as “merely political” or to purposely confuse the concepts (ask Lynn Hirschberg, baby) in attempts to obscure the message, but M.I.A. transcends the bullshit with Maya. She’s no rebel in name only, that’s for damn sure. The record excels because of its belligerent balance, its courage and its vibe. It is a snarky manifesto and a fine pop record, hitting on concepts that lesser artists leave for the bold and proving that meaningful music can still pump out over club speakers.

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