After a slew of delayed release dates, a controversial plan to drop the fourth record by M.I.A. on the Tamil New Year fizzled out like the rest of them. In addition to a $1.5 million lawsuit from the NFL and a public custody battle, the follow up to 2010′s legislative /\/\ /\ Y /\ record was determined too positive by record executives, then shelved until it was darkened up a bit. In the same period of time, Maya Arulpragasam’s career ironically took a turn toward extreme acclaim by winning institutional awards and mass praise for the Romain Gavras directed “Bad Girls” music video, on top of an honorary Super bowl Half-Time performance and two spotlight features alongside Madonna on MDNA. No surprised faces were had when the outspoken musician flipped the boiling pot by threatening Interscope with a leak of the record.
While a head-to-head battle between artist and label is as common as rain in Cherrapunji, it’s the end result of the conflict over an album now named and released as Matangi that’s most surprising. “I don’t know what that means,” Arulpragasam shot. “Maybe they said that because it didn’t sound like EDM or dubstep. But after that, I handed them the same version of the album. I added intros and outros, but the songs were pretty much the same.”
The final version of Matangi, finally released on November 1st, 2013, demonstrates a confrontational, scatterbrained interpolation of worldly influences that entwine themselves to sociologically positive implications, individualism, a political standpoint that punctures as much as it converses, and the grabbing give-no-fucks swagger that attaches itself to Maya’s persona and art. Continuing through the streamline of titling records after family members, this fourth studio effort is a varied self-titled release as well as an inspirational reference to the Hindu Goddess affiliated with music and learning.
Starting with a bang and spelled out in caps, the Switch produced title-track wastes no time in designing an aggressive stereo oriented, loop based percussion section for M.I.A. to center her diversified vocals upon. Cleverly comprised of low-bass tones and doubled kick sounds, the track stays heavy in the lower frequencies, allowing the artist’s antagonistic vocal assault to play through delayed effects and massive, doubled-pitch manipulation accents. Amongst the ground working of “MATANGI,” a frantically distributed cultural drum line rages and varies through the transforming song structure. “It’s so simple, go to the floor,” she demands, before interrogating, “Do you want more? Do you want more? Do you know what I got in store?” As left and right as the the chorus may be, it’s nothing compared to the contrasts bestowed upon the listener in the verses. In fact, the entire first verse finds itself packing named country upon named country into nothing but a shout-out that ends simply by asking them to do the dance (this is very “Internacional” by Brazilian Girls). Afterward, the hip-pop & trap inspired composition rises with hostility by commenting on false idol worship (“I’m ice cream, you’re sorbet,” / “if you’re gonna be me, you need a manifesto. If you ain’t got one, you better get one presto”) and blatantly attacking mainstream status (“started from the bottom, but Drake gets all the credit”).
Later in Matangi, Drake finds himself backed into a corner with opposition to his You Only Live Once motto, on the reincarnation and karma-oriented song “Y.A.L.A.” (You Always Live Always). Considering the unsigned YMCMB affiliate The Weeknd pops up twice on this record, it’s quite possible that jabs toward the Take Care crossover artist is referenced as a general example toward a tired culture as opposed to blunt cage rattle. Regardless, M.I.A. insures the listener that “bombs go off when I enter the building,” and Dutch production team The Partysquad brings hard hitting, repetitive saw-synthesizer lines and a wonderful hall reverberated post-chorus section that uses pitched down vocals to create it’s main melodic line.
Known to throw traditional mixing techniques down the drain (reference), there’s distortion throughout the entirety of Matangi that’s most likely intentional. While grating to the ears of an industry professional, the imperfections throughout M.I.A. records lend themselves toward a rougher, more sonically political feel, than what they would be in a most polished version. Being said, there is an offender that seems to be a bit left-field in the truculent mixing and mastering process. The optimistic Doc McKinney oriented “Lights” track, specifically through the opening loops, fills itself with ear vexation. Once the full chorus and actual structural sections of the song begin, the track advances greatly, but any break in the song brings distortion that seemingly strays from the light, spiritual oriented subject all together.
What is attention grabbing in the best way possible is “aTENTion”. In the same vein as Kala’s “XR2,” a 90′s minimal dance beat lends itself to a foreground for Arulpragasam to present an experimental voice to. Tooting her blatant horn, she’s “running through the streets causing TENTsion” and insuring the political undertones of the tent emphasis match reaction to playful lines such as “There’s 36 champers in my Wu TENT”. It’s mixed wonderfully, downplayed for throwback vibes to flourish, all the while indiscriminately pointing out what is vaguely imporTENT. (While the caps lock in this paragraph may be difficult to understand, its context becomes clear when listening to the song itself). It is several songs later, during “Boom Skit,” where Maya directs specific deliberation toward subjects of her own life and the media portrayal of celebrity in terms of stereotypes.
There’s a thorough write up we did here on “Bad Girls”. In the same sub-genre of similar lyrical specimens as “Bad Girls”, there are a few tracks that guide their way into lighter, more pop oriented song craft. “Exodus/Sexodus,” and “Know It Ain’t Right” steer toward more generalized lyrics than the hard hitting battery Matangi is comprised of. It’s a different side to M.I.A. than what is spread throughout her catalog of music, but, stays gloomy and tiger-cuttingly ready to explode at any moment.
It’s “Only 1 U” that best displays the joyous mood Matangi sometimes falls upon in that it’s rough, loop heavy, blazing with electric shocks, and creatively stuttered in boxing ring like orientation, allowing a jumbled repetition of the word “ding” to be met at the end of it’s phrase with a bell. Dissimilar is the pushed “Come Walk With Me,” that combines traditional pop structures, with conjectural mixing techniques (including phased guitar plucks and multiple vocal take cut and pasting).
We also covered “Bring The Noize” at length here, upon its release. While the album version eliminates the Janis Joplin interpolation, it’s still holds a triumphant spotlight in terms of intensely political content, hard hitting sonics, and one hell of a music video.
In all, the semi-self titled Matangi marries into the sonic vernacular of Maya Arulpragasam’s catalog immaculately. It’s brash, autobiographical, biographical, honest, full of face-off engagement, and an unapologetic explanation of the world as M.I.A. sees it, has seen it, and will continue to see it. Whether the Goddess of music and learning affected the musician as much as she says she did is up for debate (see this FACT article), but it’s clear that even when something of positive influence comes into play on an album by this Sri Lankan, it’s going to come across just the way we like it: badass and tough.