M.I.A.
Maya


4.5
superb

Review

by Alex Silveri EMERITUS
July 13th, 2010 | 141 replies | 30,167 views


Release Date: 2010 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Take it as it comes.

To talk about MAYA is to talk about MIA. There’s just no escaping it. Though all the pre-release buzz that circulated around MIA the person – her messy spat with the New York Times, her oh-so-confrontational music video for ‘Born Free’ – lay the specter of MAYA the album. And it hasn’t always been the happiest of specters. At any rate, the problem for MIA has simply been that in-between stealing the limelight (say, performing on the edge of giving birth at the 2009 Grammy awards) and playing the role of agent provocateur (say, shooting small red haired children in the head), this is not just ‘another statement’ in a long line of statements – rather, this is the statement, the one that makes all the others actually worth listening to. At stake, in other words, is the only stake that has ever really mattered: her relevance. MIA is MAYA. MAYA is MIA. This record isn’t just aptly titled, it’s the Truth, capital T and all. Without this, MIA becomes another footnote in the books, an all talking, all ranting, washed up loser.

But back to the problem: forty-five minutes, one big statement, what to do? MIAs answer is an unconventional one, and it goes something like this: ‘I’m like a black genie and I blow up on this song, rub-a-dub-a-dub-a-dub, rub-a-dub-a-dub-a-dub’. Or, ‘I got sticky-ickky-ikky-weeee, I got-a shot-a tequila in me’. Or, ‘Sha-ka-la-ka-la, Sha-ka-la-ka-lee, Sha-ka-la-ka-la-ka-la-ka-lee’. Or thereabouts. At first glance, it’s the sort of lyrical triviality that flourishes in a contemporary music scene where ‘Umbrealla-ella-ella-eh-eh-eh’ marks the height of emotional evocation. But to think like this is to misread MIA. As she informs us: ‘You know who I am and I run this fucking club’ (lub-a-lub-a-lub-a-lub). Point is, she actually does. And power like this? Well, it oozes, and MAYA is toxic with it. There’s enough swagger and attitude here that MIA could sing just about anything and make it cooler-than-fuck. Again, MIA doesn’t just own this record, she is this record. It’s almost possible to hear her laughter under it all: “watch them eat this shit up”. Difference is that this time round, it tastes downright amazing.

Which is the thing to remember about MIA: on the one hand, she’s the supreme ironist of the scene she was born into, laughing at its best and worst excesses, while on the other, she’s thoroughly embedded in it, a pop and indie culture queen with a touch so sensitive that she’s still living up to Nas’ pronouncement a few years earlier that she is ‘the sound of the future’. There’s a sense that she doesn’t always straddle between the two with perfect control, but not even MIA is immune to her own frenzied machine. Nevertheless, this position is exactly why instead of crafting carefully laid out lyrical narratives, she leaps haphazardly across the cultural terrain with a sort of reckless abandon, dropping heavily weighted anchors of zeitgeisty goodness to mark herself out as effervescently hip: After informing us of the government plot in which our ipods are connected to the government (via Google), she runs through the litany of cool: Tarantino, Bob Marley, Ghandi, Smirnoff, Obama – little things, senseless things; meaningless, but loaded with effect. It’s no accident for example, that the second time she asks ‘who’s in town?’ on ‘Lovealot’, it sounds barely, imperceptibly like ‘Hu Jin Tao’ (look him up). The last person to so effectively string together cultural throwaways so readily was John Ashbery, and if he was hailed as the prince of poets for a generation, there’s a feel for a warm shadow of that royalty that presides here too.

But the namedropping doesn’t stop here, and lyrics aside, they’re weaved into the tapestry of music here just as tightly, with the production decks manned by the likes of Diplo, Switch, Rusko and Blaqstarr, all of whom provide nothing short of an aural all-you-can-eat buffet. While their ever recognizable paws leave their marks all across the record, the end result is nevertheless undeniably MIA: even though most of the traces of ‘world music’ that were found on Kala and Arular have been extinguished, the music instead follows the schizophrenic and paranoiac vein of the lyrical content, with the squelch and wail of synthesizers dancing through a dark foliage of heavy beats and perfectly worked in samples. To give an insight, ‘Steppin Up’ roars with the sound of power drills over MIAs half-spat, half-sung delivery (the college academic in me likes to think it’s a commentary on the manufacturing of pop idols), ‘Born Free’ finds her reverb laden voice shooting through the stripped down proto-punk of Suicide’s instantly recognizable ‘Ghost Rider’ bassline, while ‘Meds and Feds’ is an all guns blazing guitar romp though an infusion of the ever loud and ever cool Sleigh Bells. The idea behind all of this is simple: throw it all at the wall, hit the big targets, and let the listener fill in the blanks. It’s a trick that lets MIA paint a way bigger picture than she probably otherwise would, and it works a brilliant charm.

And when it comes down to it, this album is, yes, a mess. It’s chaotic, it’s noisy, it’s abrasive, and it’s everything MIA has ever stood for (take a good, long look at that artwork). Even the slower songs, like the reggae-pop of ‘It Takes A Muscle’ and stratospheric headfuck of ‘Space’ exist precisely to accentuate the madness, not calm it. Which is why so many people missed the point with ‘Born Free’s music video: while the blog collective played pin the tail on the interpretation, lost in the fog was the obvious answer that it was a video about giving a fuck. About what? About anything. What does ‘XXXO’ really mean?: Enjoy. When a song is this catchy that it makes Lady Gaga look like just another pop star, just damn well enjoy it. And actually, let’s make that contrast: Both MIA and Gaga are at the respective top of their games because they’ve reversed everything about the way ‘things are done’. Gaga, the ultimate pop artist, doesn’t actually exist outside of her music, while MIA, the ultimate blog artist, disappears inside her music (try finding a concrete political point on any of the songs on MAYA – they don’t exist). The point is that MAYA has to be taken as it comes, culture jam and all, and it’s precisely at this point that it works out to be one of the most refreshing albums to hit the shelves in a long, long time.

4.3/5



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user ratings (250)
Chart.
3.2
good
other reviews of this album
Peter Tabakis (2)
Maya confirms the sneaking suspicion that this pop-empress wears no clothes....

For Meatplow (2)
M.I.A. is missing in action....

Conrad Tao EMERITUS (4.5)
M.I.A. delivers her most cohesive and passionate album yet....


Comments:Add a Comment 
BenX02
July 13th 2010



427 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review. I don't get the low rating, 3.5? Come on. This is by far her best album, and I enjoyed
Kala.

AggravatedYeti
July 13th 2010



7684 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

The point is that MAYA has to be taken as it comes, culture jam and all, and it’s precisely at this point that it works out to be one of the most refreshing albums to hit the shelves in a long, long time.


yep.
nice stuff Mr. Silveri.
album is great

taylormemer
July 13th 2010



4913 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Cool bananas. Currently sitting at a 3.5 for me though. Could jump to 4 though.

fractured
July 13th 2010



365 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

FANTASTIC review! I really liked the flow and your interpretations, and agree with most of your points. This album is still setting for me, we'll see where it rests in a couple more spins. Keep writing these ace reviews!

WoodLawn
July 13th 2010



134 Comments


Good review. Good album. And my not-so-secret, guilty-pleasure love of MIA continues.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2010



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

you know you take such long hiatuses that i forget youre one of my favorite writers here. then you write this. and i realize how much i miss you =(

Digging: Alvvays - Alvvays

FlawedPerfection
Emeritus
July 13th 2010



2806 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

sucks. I don't see how everything sounds all cool as shit. The beats are almost all terrible, and that's what always made M.I.A. sound cool. But I mean, if you think the production is good then I can see why you'd like this album.

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
July 13th 2010



3762 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I really do love this eclectic, off the wall sorta sorta beats, especially when they're so pop orientated like they are here. I get that it's not everyone's cup of tea, but I've been waiting for something like this to drop for so long. Apart from Diplo's other mixes and Spank Rock's LP, there's nothing out there quite like it.

And EC I just can't keep up with all these young writer punks =( But mostly I only really like writing reviews where thoughts just come to me and I don't have to think to hard. I'm lazy like that.

And thank you fractured =)

Digging: Towers - Bel Air Highrise Plantation

Zizzer
July 13th 2010



915 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

Great review and conclusion especially. I feel like this is better than Kala, but not as good as Arular.

Det_Nosnip
July 13th 2010



374 Comments


This album hasn't really grown on me so far. Most of the songs are either border-line noise or dissapointingly mainstream sounding. While on Arular and Kala MIA's voice was very upfront and in your face, on this record it feels like she's buried behind a wall of reverb and static. At the same time, she's started using a lot of annoying hip-hop cliches like vocoders and delay/repeaters. There are some definite stand-out tracks, but compared to Arular/Kala which I can pretty much play all the way through, I feel like this album was somewhat of a let down.

Zizzer
July 13th 2010



915 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

You could copy and paste that into a pretty decent sound off.

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2010



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

can't wait to listen to this

Lucid
Contributing Reviewer
July 13th 2010



7021 Comments


The noise, chaos and quirkiness works best on Teqkilla. Great track.

Digging: Shabazz Palaces - Lese Majesty

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2010



30893 Comments


Woah, new Silveri review

Digging: FaltyDL - In The Wild

jeremologyy
July 13th 2010



265 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

i like this. not as much as kala or arular, but i dont think its as bad as some of the critics are saying.

Bitchfork
July 13th 2010



7584 Comments


i love how the staff review has the least comments.

Deviant.
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2010



30893 Comments


I like how it has more views than yours

Electric City
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2010



15727 Comments

Album Rating: 3.0

i love how the staff review has the least comments.


that can happen if you comment your own review 8 times in two pages

joshuatree
Emeritus
July 13th 2010



3743 Comments


i like that anyone cares about things like this

klap
Staff Reviewer
July 13th 2010



10258 Comments


i care about you cam

Digging: The Bilinda Butchers - Heaven



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