M.I.A. has carved out a career making music that can be difficult to get your head around and enjoy, but music that is nonetheless an exhilarating and often rewarding listen. After the disappointing misstep that was 'MAYA', 'Matangi' looks to reclaim that wide-spread acclaim that was so readily handed to her with her first two major-release albums, but this would by no means be an easy task.
After the failure of 'MAYA', and with big label pressure breathing down her neck, there was a quiet expectation that Maya Arulpragasam would have to go much more commercial with her fourth record, but this clearly isn't the case as the Sri Lankan/British artist continues to strive for something that little bit different.
If anything, 'Matangi' is the angriest album of Maya's career thus far. It's much more 'XR2' than it is 'Paper Planes' with its warped vocals, heated bro-step electronics and bursts of sub-bass found throughout, and the lyrics, as a rule, have some kind of target, somewhere for Maya to direct her fury; be it world governments, the NFL, consumer culture, Drake (or rather 'The Motto' that he penned), she seems to be taking aim at someone. Even the tracks that have a closer resemblance to the dreamy, bedroom R&B of The Weeknd - 'Exodus' and 'Sexodus', both of which feature Torontonian Abel Tesfaye - have an imbedded sense of ire about them. This could very well be Maya's response to her label's supposed comments on the album being "too positive" when she was initially ready to put it out, or maybe she's just really pissed off nowadays.
From the get go, with the hypnotically baleful 'Karmageddon', Maya is channelling her dark side, carrying it into the next track and beyond. The tribal beats and yelping samples of 'Matangi' impose the album's overwhelmingly erratic style, albeit one that has been meticulously worked upon in the studio. 'Matangi' is a studio-based album, one whose origins are rooted in the synths, MIDIs and samples of Hell's resident music troupes. The machine-gun drumming and distorted Bollywood samples are thrown into the mix on a whim and each listen brings unexpected thrusts from one direction to the other. It's a dizzying effect that can make you feel a little uneasy at times, but as you imagine Maya sat in the recording booth with her middle finger up, there's a very real chance that this discomfort was completely planned.
She just doesn't sit still on the record, as she shows on 'Double Bubble Trouble' where she begins with an almost quaint, subtle dancehall intro before overhauling it just as quickly to turn the song into a pulsating club anthem. Her The Weeknd-featuring tracks slow the pace down somewhat, enough for the listener to see straight for a second, but in all this is an album that only pulls punches. Lightning speed ones at that.
'Bad Girls', arousing thoughts of an Arabian dance club, has some cohesion about it, but when this is the most accessible track on the album (it's 'Paper Planes' if you like) then you know what kind of erratic ride you're getting yourself into when you put 'Matangi' in your CD player.
'Matangi' is often overproduced, sounding too polished to be as raw as an attempt at making a modern equivalent to punk rap. It is inventive, political, angry, dazzling in some parts and dull in others. It's challenging, yet ultimately rewarding. It's M.I.A., what did you expect?
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