M.I.A. – /\/\/\Y/\
M.I.A. – /\/\/\Y/\
Since the release of her second album, 2007’s Kala, M.I.A.’s career and personal life went through some seemingly sudden left turns. She toured heavily, became something of a star based on the success of the single “Paper Planes,” was nominated for an Oscar collaborating with A.R. Rahman on the music for Slumdog Millionaire, and gave birth to her first child. But all of this didn’t seem to stifle the ever-industrious M.I.A., who began preparations for her third record /\/\/\Y/\ (pronounced “Maya”) very shortly after everything settled down a bit.
A commentary on information overload in the digital age, /\/\/\Y/\ accordingly sounds just about as hectic as her last few years have been, positively brimming with blistering noise and pounding beats. While this description is not dissimilar to the sound of Kala or even moments on Arular, there has been a bit of a change in approach. Returning to long-time collaborators Diplo, Switch, Blaqstarr (and throwing in dubstep producer Rusko for good measure), M.I.A. still creates club-ready numbers that bend genres together, but the globe-trotting playfulness of her past work is significantly downplayed with a larger focus on experimental techno. Of course, this doesn’t mean /\/\/\Y/\ is no fun at all. In fact, a few of the album’s best tracks push her music to new, exciting limits. “Teqkilla” is six minutes of overlapping sirens, vocal chants, and found sounds that somehow remains purposeful, and the clattering “Born Free” verges on industrial with its aggressive pulse. The pop songs that break up the album don’t play it safe either: “XXXO” is dementedly catchy dance pop, while “It Takes A Muscle” is a not-bad-at-all ragga. Yet, often times, M.I.A.’s sound experiments result in songs where her reach exceeds her grasp. “Meds And Feds”‘ metal-infused ruckus is at first startling, then numbing, then boring. Meanwhile songs such as “Tell Me Why” and “It Iz What It Iz” are interesting in spots but meander far too much to make any lasting impact. While the highs on /\/\/\Y/\ are bracing, they don’t always match the quality of her best work. M.I.A.’s heart is in the project for sure, but the album sometimes sounds a bit too self-indulgent to remain consistently engaging.