M.I.A. - Matangi | Album Review | By Volume

I'm afraid of heaven because I can't stand the height. I'm afraid of you because I can't be left behind. St. Vincent - Regret



Only 1 U M.I.A.

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Author: on November 14, 2013
N.E.E.T. / Interscope
November 1, 2013

Let’s start by making something explicit: having M.I.A. back is absolutely excellent. It is truly about fucking time. One quick (and poignant) flash of her middle-finger and seemingly she was wiped from the US consciousness. As though that simple gesture would regress years of good natured culture within the brains of millions viewing the Super Bowl that night. As though expression were somehow only a vehicle at the behest of societal destruction, and the lightning rod was protruding from the hand of this British woman. How dare she have the gall to present — nay, force her beliefs upon me, encroaching on my inherent freedom to enjoy my beer, pigskin and Madonna. Fuck you M.I.A.; you’re obviously ruining everything we level-headed types hold so dear.

Sure this is old news, but I feel it pertains more than slightly to Matangi’s existence and place within M.I.A’s catalogue. The 2009 and 2013 M.I.A.s are very different artists; she is closer now to her formative years. Mantangi is not garnished with Maya’s industrial touches or Vicki Leekx’s paranoid nature. It feels almost akin to a true follow-up to her initial fiery one-two punch of Arular and Kala – stylistically the album fits this more “traditional” M.I.A. sound – or lush electronics that are propped up on the shoulders of gigantic beats, cherry-picking various non-Anglo influences in the form of vocal samples and instruments abnormal to most hip hop; all tied up in Maya’s endless gusto. There is certainly more crunch to be found here than on Matangi’s closest relatives, in fact it isn’t too far off to say Matangi’s is horridly sequenced. Yet even as a collection of tracks the record still feels cohesive and I’d venture this is directly linked to M.I.A.’s inarguable talent as a songwriter.

Though to assume that this is some type of return to her roots as an artist would be a massive oversight. She has never really left her initial mission – M.I.A. is still here to stir up shit and demand we take our respective breaths and begin some deeper level of thought. She is still taking shots at The Establishment and continues to battle internally with her own growth into the most dreaded of things: a sellout. Matangi intimates these things eloquently, which is an exceptional turnaround from her last record, but more importantly it seems as if M.I.A. actually enjoys being a protagonist again. I feel as though she was cast a villain after that Sunday night – even in the eyes of alternative and underground culture, at least in the US. Not only were we perplexed as to why someone like M.I.A. would be accepting money from the NFL. But she was cavorting about during an event that has steadily evolved into a death knell for good musical taste. Far be it from me to rag on M.I.A. for accepting the presumably fat sack-o-cash from the No Fun League – this is her job after all – but the whole thing rang out as some type of farce. Thankfully the producers were dumb enough to leave that live feed focused on her while she lazily censored her lyrics — because “shit” is obviously the start of Western society’s decline — and this gave her ample time.

Something about Maya and Vicki Leekx felt labored, as though she entered the studio with some grand idea – a concept album about the self-destructive Information Age – but couldn’t manage to internalize the conflict enough onto the record. This era of her work was inherently combative, sure. Actually, it was probably too militaristic for its own good (exceptional videos for “Born Free” aside). Matangi is nearly as venomous towards Maya’s usual targets but it isn’t hung up on this veiled aesthetic like that album was. Not to infer that M.I.A. shouldn’t experiment, or that she’s bad at it (obviously not), she just seems more comfortable here and relays her messages with exponentially more sincerity. “It’s cool / it takes two / so I’m gonna still fuck with you”, could otherwise seem like some half-assed lyrical sentiment in which M.I.A. just can’t be harassed enough to write something meaningful. Except injected into the context of the delectably sweet dancehall jam that is “Come Walk With Me” the lyrics ring more akin to Han Solo’s “I know” than a hollow declaration. Which can be said for most of Matangi: it is a record who’s quality is anchored more by its intentions than its actual execution, but make no mistake there is still piping hot music to be found here.  And if you can forgive M.I.A. for not always handling her lyrics sheet with the right-amount of revision and instead approach Matangi as a total-package piece, there is much to love about M.I.A.’s fourth record.

My words are my armor / and you’re about to meet your karma” she emphasizes to conclude opener “Karmageddon”, though the declaration rings somewhat alien for M.I.A. — at least when it comes to the perceived intent of the line. It’s relayed almost half-whispered, labored in her enunciation, as though she’s simply been fed up to the point of exhaustion. This ruse is all part of Matangi’s deceptive undercurrent — “your telephone phone rings / but you weren’t listening / so, motherfucker now I’m steppin’ in“, she reminds us on heavy-hitter “Only 1 U”. As a battle cry of sorts, M.I.A. is here to remind us all she’s never really left, but should we need any reaffirmation of her stature and musical prowess Matangi is here to fill that void. Problem is all it does really is fill up the this hole — nothing is sealed, nothing is built upon the wreckage left in the wake of a tumultuous few years for M.I.A. — she’s just kind of present again, reminding us all that her music and influence are still more than relevant.

Sadly though, at times Matangi feels a bit too much like the younger sibling clawing at the feet of its greater family members and in years the record may evolve into one of her more celebrated affairs; but I doubt it. Matangi is catchy, interesting and at times even innovative, but it isn’t shaking the traditional confines of hip hop and pop music in the ways that Arular or Kala did. If anything the record serves to reinforce the notion that Maya Arulpragasam (along with Diplo) did shift hip hop’s worldview less than a decade ago — a shift that pervades through the music’s culture to this day and is only increasing. It probably won’t curb the chiding of her detractors, but let’s not pretend like this anything but jet-fuel for her inner fire, as M.I.A. needs to constantly be at odds with something. Her targets are clearly defined on Matangi, which is more than Maya could say for itself, but unlike that record, and her first two, LP4 feels like the first time M.I.A. is putting out an M.I.A. Record, but there is nothing wrong with this. She’s a vital voice and it is about time we heard more of it. But in the future M.I.A., don’t disappear for so long, it isn’t good for any of us.

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