M.I.A. - Matangi

Talking to Pitchfork last month, M.I.A. called “Paper Planes” “an accident”: “It wasn’t a song we made for the masses. It took two years to get popular, and there were many fights about censoring the gunshot sounds.” And she’s right; the track took a weird and circuitous route to pop ubiquity; it famously had to appear in the Pineapple Express trailer before the world noticed. But if “Paper Planes” was an accidental hit, it wasn’t an accidental anthem. Everything about that song, from the Clash-sampled lilt of the track to the guns-up explosions to the mocking singsong lilt in M.I.A.’s voice when she’s demanding your money, seems calibrated for endorphin-rush immediacy. M.I.A.’s best songs — “Galang,” “Sunshowers,” “Bamboo Banga,” “World Town” — are similarly huge and direct and cathartic. When she released the industrial noise detour /\/\/\Y/\ a few years ago, what bothered people the most, I think, wasn’t the shift in sound but the abandonment of that level of anthem-craft. And even though Matangi, her latest, represents, in some superficial ways, a return to the sound of her first two albums, it’s still not on their level in terms of vision and immediacy. There aren’t a whole lot of anthems. Instead, M.I.A. has done something I didn’t know she could do: She’s made a very good album with a relatively small scope.

In a lot of ways, time has been kind to /\/\/\Y/\, which beat Yeezus and Death Grips and a few other things to the severe jackhammer sputter-pop sound. But when M.I.A. made the towering “Bad Girls” a few years ago, there was a collective internet sigh of relief: This is the type of sound she was born to make. But “Bad Girls” sticks out on Matangi. It’s not just that the song is old, though it still feels like the relic of an older cultural period, almost like she’d thrown “Galang” on the new album just to see what would happen. It’s the song’s dizzy simplicity. The other songs on Matangi aren’t simple. They’re twitchy, anxious, distracted. Her hooks rattle and stutter. Sound effects rip through the fabric of the track. Tempos switch up and down without warning. M.I.A. loads the songs up with reference games — Sampling early-’00s crunk bellower Bone Crusher on “Attention,” quoting Masta Ace’s hoopty-rap classic “Born To Roll” on “Boom,” interpolating chirpy mid-’90s bubble-punk one-hit wonders Shampoo on “Double Bubble Trouble” — that keep playing on your sense of deja vu. Some of the moments sound huge: The massive trap-reggae skank on “Double Bubble Trouble,” the ravey synth-stabs on “Y.A.L.A.” and “Bring The Noize.” But even then she finds little ways to subvert the forward motion, to keep the songs trapped in their own mental minefields.

M.I.A. is, of course, a different person (or at least a different public figure) than the one we met nine years ago. She once came off like a self-made pop revolutionary in all the best ways. But since then, we’ve gotten to know her as a human being, and human beings are messy and contradictory things. After “Swagga Like Us” and the Super Bowl bird-flip and the Lynn Hirschberg beef, as well as the firestorms of attention that came with all those things, it might be hard to take M.I.A. at face value if she made another “Pull Up The People.” She’s also become a mom and seen her Sri Lankan homeland descend further into violent chaos, so image-maintenance probably hasn’t been the first thing she’s been worried about. Lately, she’s fallen in with WikiLeaks boss Julian Assange, who opened her recent New York show via Skyped-in lecture, and he represents a different kind of dissent and opposition from the iconic cool that M.I.A. presented back on Arular. Assange is about sifting through the chaos of digital detritus to uncover secrets and hold people responsible, and maybe that’s what’s going on musically on Matangi: The ADD chatter of the internet, the erratic stop-starting of a Firefox window with too many tabs open, the glitch that fucks with your heartrate.

M.I.A. named Matangi after the Hindu goddess of music, and she calls it a spiritual album, but the actual album doesn’t offer the calm focus that those things might imply. Instead, listening to it is a nerve-racking experience. But it’s a pleasurably nerve-racking experience, and that’s why it works. M.I.A. writes hooks, and those hooks connect even when she surrounds them with chaos. “Come Walk With Me” is a great playground-chant of a song even after the ribcage-rattling drums kick in. “Bring The Noize,” for all its from-all-directions vocal-filter attacks, works as a cathartic and visceral piece of work. “Exodus” layers the sexed-out energy of its Weeknd sample to make a gasping cloud of menace. And then, towering above it all, there’s still “Bad Girls,” which sounds as great as it did when we first heard it. I’d love to hear M.I.A. once again make an album of songs like that one day, but that’s not where she is right now. Instead, she’s made an album that reflects the intensity and disorder of her public life and all the forces at work within it, and she’s made it still, against odds, resonate as pop music. That, in itself, is an impressive feat.

Matangi is out 11/5 on Interscope.

Comments (42)
  1. “In a lot of ways, time has been kind to /\/\/\Y/\, which beat Yeezus…”

    • Favorite part about that sentence is the invention of the genre “slutter-pop.”

      Someone please fill me in as to what characteristics slutter-pop consists of.

      • A slutter pop is like an otter pop, but it’s for sluts. Or slutty otters. Either way, a delicious frozen treat.

      • Er, it says “sputter-pop”.

        • Pshhhhhhhh…. Oh now this person’s coming in being all like “it says sputter-pop.” HA!!! Like you’re some big shot with your reading comprehension. What you can’t even begin to process, man, is how totally happening and out of sight things were back before you even showed up. I remember it like it was 2:25 PM: free love reigned supreme –– it was like we were ensconced in a fog of raw sensuality, bodies touching bodies with all of society’s fascistic notions of propriety tossed aside; mind-expanding drugs available everywhere you looked; a spirit of enthusiasm and creativity rushed through the air; there was a tangible vibe that radical, egalitarian social and political change was imminent and we were going to be the ones that made it happen; and most importantly, there was a typo in the article.

        • Pshhhhhhhh…. Oh now this person’s coming in being all like “it says sputter-pop.” HA!!! Like you’re some big shot with your reading comprehension. What you can’t even begin to process, man, is how totally happening and out of sight things were back before you even showed up. I remember it like it was 2:25 PM: free love reigned supreme –– it was like we were ensconced in a fog of raw sensuality, bodies touching bodies with all of society’s fascistic notions of propriety tossed aside; mind-expanding drugs available everywhere you looked; a spirit of enthusiasm and creativity rushed through the air; there was a tangible vibe that radical, egalitarian social and political change was imminent and we were going to be the ones that made it happen; and most importantly, there was a typo in the article.

  2. That was supposed to say “sputter pop,” but maybe I should just leave it.

  3. Well, it seems you liked it!

    You compare /\/\/\Y/\ to Yeezus, but I was for sure expecting to see Matangi get some Yeezus comparisons. The way the songs morph into different sound entirely was one of my favored parts on Yeezus and definitely one of my favorite parts on Matangi. I suppose “Yeezus” got Prematurely Eval’d just like this did, so I’m not going to feel like we’re panning this album the way P4k panned Cut Copy today.

    I would like to talk about Matangi some more though! I find it to be a spiritual album. The sounds incorporated are leagues above the usual laptop production sounds we’ve grown accustomed to hearing. M.I.A. has always been a leader in incorporating that traveled sound that was one of the better aspects of “Kala” and also something I feel Arcade Fire were trying to incorporate on “Reflektor” with their Haitian influences. I love that her first verse on “Matangi” is a big rhyme including most of the countries in the world. Maybe it’s just the ones she’s visited? Either way it helped pull me into the album and perhaps tricked me into thinking this album is some global statement. (Her verse about getting a manifesto seems to apply).

    While that song is a feat in and of itself, the song in what is basically the single slot gets me off my feet going nuts. “Only 1 U” IS AN ANTHEM. How could it not be? That break down from trillions, to billions, to millions, etc. is glorious and that beat is undeniable. “There’s only 1 u and I’mma drink to that.” Maybe it’s something about toasting the listner, but I haven’t heard a more unifying line in a song since Kanye’s “Runaway” verse about toasting all the douchebags. Of course M.I.A.’s line is more positive… but it’s still a line I want to sing out loud with all my friends in the room.

    I feel like “Exodus”/”Sexodus” are sequenced phenomenally on this album. The first time acts as a nice breather after the oft tiring “aTENTion” before we get socked with “Bad Girls” one more time. Sidenote: Do you recall when I was giving A$AP Rocky a hard time about putting “Goldie” in the single slot on his album even though the song was half a year old? Imagine my relief to see “Bad Girls” chilling deep into the album, properly set apart from the album with said Weeknd sample and that quick Hit-Boy beat sampling whatever Tom mentioned in the article. ANYWAY, when the Weeknd sample comes up again at the end, it’s a very nice comedown. Because she KILLS it over that beat. She takes shots at Drake at least twice on Matangi and I feel she’s mocking Abel when she sings “You could have it all” on “Sexodus”. M.I.A. taking shots!

    Anyway, the best thing I can say about this album is for me, when I put it on, I find it very hard to stop. That’s a very good sign for an album experience. Sure, there may not be as many stand-out anthems that “Arular” or “Kala” had, but we already dealt with that on /\/\/\Y/\. There ARE anthems on Matangi, even if one of them is over a year old… but “Only 1 U” is definitely one of the better tracks I’ve heard this year.

    tl;dr M.I.A. & Switch make great music

    • Actually, my quick recap is this:

      When I look around at the music we’ve hailed as some of the best this year, I can’t help but seeing “Matangi” sitting next to it at the very least. It’s still too soon, but I view this as one of the (many) very great albums of 2013.

      • I gave it a spin this evening, and maybe it was the adrenaline making it better in the way that adrenaline can sometimes do that, but this album is better than it should be. I was expecting maybe a formidable return of interesting ideas from M.I.A., but in a post-/\/\/\Y/\-Death Grips-Yeezus world, I can very well see this getting some high acclaim. Again, I’ve only given it a single spin but was thoroughly impressed.

        • “…but in a post-/\/\/\Y/\-Death Grips-Yeezus world, I can very well see this getting some high acclaim.”

          Nailed it.

          I’ll also admit that my early excitement listening to this album could fade in a few days and with a few more spins. But between Tom’s write-up and a few of the comments below, it seems the schizophrenic nature of this album that’s rubbing people the wrong way actually rubbed me the right way! (TWSS!)

          I think it’s that aspect of Matangi that engages me and captures my attention. “Warriors” is a FINE example of how M.I.A. can bounce back and forth between different sounds that you wouldn’t expect to hear in the span of a few minutes. But she does it, largely because she’s got hella swagger. Lest we forget it was HER that inspired “Swagger Like Us” that led us to that Grammy performance where she out swagged Wheezy, Jeezy, Yeezy & T.I. (zy) with a bun in the oven! None of those guys that have quite a bit of swagger could outshine M.I.A. You think Santigold could float over these nutso beats with as much grace as M.I.A.? Doubt it.

          We’ve brought up Death Grips & Yeezus a lot this year. I like Death Grips in short doses, but feel an album’s worth of their music is grating. Yeezus is awesome, but we’ve all talked to death how Ye’s lyrics seem tossed off in areas. Those albums have been polarizing and I feel Matangi will be polarizing as well. It does seem like we’re giving Ye & Death Grips the benefit of the doubt and hailing them as pioneers while we still seem to be questioning M.I.A.’s decision to make this kind of music. EVEN THOUGH she already surprised us three years ago with /\/\/\Y/\ so much that we’re just now starting to realize that she was making music from the future. Matangi sounds like the world catching up with M.I.A. and she’s been here in 2013 this whole time.

          I don’t see the need to go back and revisit /\/\/\Y/\ when Matangi has, from what I can tell, perfected the formula she tinkered with on that 2010 album.

      • Raptor strikes again. Give this dude a job, Stereogum. (Just make sure he’s declawed first. Shit’s scary).

        This album rocks.

        Opossum out.

  4. I feel like I’ll be in the minority here, but this album is too melody-less and too full of Jay-Z style braggadocio for me to really get into. I’m all for bangers – I still think the opening track on Kala is the best thing she’s ever done, and that thing is WILD – but, like her last release, I find this to be so schizophrenic that it becomes dull, and the tunes just aren’t there.

    I’ll give it a few more spins though and see if I come around.

    • I felt the same way, PJ! M.I.A. will always have my support as an artist, her talent is undeniable, but I couldn’t get into any of the hooks and cannot see me playing this anywhere near as much as Arular or Kaya.

      Either way, she’s still amazing.

      • I’m hitting with an upvote even though ya’ll is WRONG cause why they be some opinion stifling haters up in here,AMIRITE


        • OUT with that p4k review!

          Speaking of haters… their Cut Copy & M.I.A. reviews read like: “It’s too close to the end of the year for us to consider anything else entering our Top 50 Albums list that is damn near finished. So fuck these albums.”

          • I’d hate to think that’s how they would approach those albums, but I wouldn’t put it past them. Or maybe they’re just crafting their cool again — Cut Copy’s review was written by cool-killer Ian Cohen and even though they paraded M.I.A. out to headline their last Pitchfork Music Festival, they already cut her down on /\/\/\Y/\ so they’ve already she is — as the review blurb says — “dated, limp, or just plain perplexing.” Basically, Pitchfork hates beat-driven electronic dance music again.

            For a good read on Pitchfork’s rating system, a former writer dished some more revelations on his blog. Among the juicier details is how an album he wouldn’t name (Twin Shadow’s Confess was pushed with a BNM despite the primary writers indifference toward it because the site heads wanted to it to serve their tastemaker cred (which contradicts how reviews are determined by the overall editorial stance Tom once touched on here,) how the reviews began to favor SEO-friendly buzz bands in 2011 and how the environment within the office is pretty cliquey and filled with egos who can dish criticism but can’t take it.

          • The thing I don’t understand about that Pitchfork review is that their main problem seems to be that some of the songs are a year old due to the release being put back. Does this mean that you can only listen to any album until the references on it become a bit dated? Like, if this album had been released a year ago they would have loved it but would no longer entertain listening to it now 12 months have passed? Weird.

          • I saw that too Dave. Hilarious considering my points above about A$AP Rocky’s album (that was BNM’d) that contained Yelawolf’s line about 2Pac strolling out at Coachella… at that point one year after the fact. Also: “Goldie”

            And how does the fact YOLO being on its deathbed (thank god) make Y.A.L.A. any less powerful? If anything Y.A.L.A. gets to act as the nail in the coffin and THAT’S reason to celebrate. And a Lara Croft reference is dated? Then so was that Austin Powers reference in POWER when Kanye rapped it, but he gets a 10. (For the record, I like both references)

            And to michael_ I have another hypothesis. Lately I’ve found myself seeking out new music less and sticking with the bands I’ve loved in the past more. I feel Pitchfork has been falling into this routine as well and may be trying to shake that up? When I saw the Cut Copy review (and now, the M.I.A. one) I instantly recalled No Age’s score this year. Do we think they’re shedding off some of their old tastes in favor of some new blood?

            I just feel a double standard between Kanye & M.I.A. now. Ye puts out Yeezus, tells his listeners he doesn’t give a fuck, and it looks like that will be their album of the year. M.I.A. comes out with some next level shit, also claims she doesn’t give a fuck (in both senses, this is a line in reference to the music they’re making. as in, they don’t give a fuck what you want to hear, this is what they want to make) she gets panned.


          • Pitchfork has always been in a routine of shedding past favorites for new blood, and I think that’s a major part of why they’re a readers’ punching bag for music criticism. The Decemberists, of Montreal, Best Coast, M.I.A., No Age, Sleigh Bells, Cults, Cut Copy all come to mind as bands that Pitchfork fever buzzed hard but have grown cold or indifferently polite to. Sometimes their sour turns are well warranted (the Decemberists) or like a realization that they should have had the first time around (Cults), but other times these bands do something that’s still very good and interesting (No Age). The latter reinforces all of the cynical opinions that modern indie music is temporary and disposable — That much of what is cool today won’t be cool a few years down the line, so why bother investing your time into them.

          • @michael_ OK, legitimate music based, non-Dylan related question for you. What was so different about “The Hazards of Love”? I completely understand people not liking the Decemberists. I’m a fan, but I see how Colin Meloy’s voice could grate on a person and they’re clearly either pretentious or walking a tightrope. But that’s always been the case. What was it about “The Hazards of Love” that pushed Pitchfork (and maybe yourself) to the point where you said, “This has gone too far!” It seemed like a natural progression to me, consistent with the themes they’d developed on previous albums. And what’s not to like about Colin Meloy sharing vocals with Shara Worden?

          • I actually liked Hazards of Love for all of its proggy, metal doom epics and how there were some great singles in between all of that. It was The King of Dead that saw the Decemberists strip back to a band more prematurely aligned with the Mumfords that fell flat with me.

          • I see. We are in agreement. The Pitchfork review of “The Hazards of Love” was, for me, one of those moments where I felt their criticism almost like a personal judgement. I don’t know why. I just reread it, and, yeah, they gave it a 5.7, but it’s not nearly as harsh a review as I remember. I also don’t know why in 2009 it was important to me that Pitchfork not pan “The Hazards of Love.” Seems like a funny thing to be bothered by, and this was only 4 years ago. Stereogum’s ambivalence towards “Reflektor” is having no effect on me whatsoever, and I like that album now way more than I liked “The Hazards of Love” in 2009.

          • I kind of gave them a pass on the No Age album – they were a bit harsh but I agree that it isn’t as good as the last few. And if you look at the name of the reviewer, big surprise that they were going to be crabby about it. With Cut Copy, is it just that the site’s fans of that band are no longer there? I don’t see Free Your Mind as the album to convert those who didn’t like the band before, and maybe with the band’s defenders gone it was finally time for Pitchfork to throw them away.

            With M.I.A., the album is a bit of a mess but so was Reflektor and that got a 9.2 (I like both albums). I guess they gave up on her during MAYA, but then this review reads like they still have some hope?

            Pitchfork is still good at highlighting new music I might have overlooked otherwise, but I wish they wouldn’t throw away established acts so arbitrarily.

        • Thanks – I feel like if I’d posted with my actual SG account, on which I’m very active and generally well received, people would’ve been more apt to upvote? I mean, I stated a soft opinion and even said that I’d give it a few more chances. I know they love M.I.A. around here, but leave room for opposite views people.

          Eh, what do I know, I DID just accidentally sign in with my FB account. PJ OUT.

  5. Is anyone else disappointed that many of the best parts of “MATANGI Mix for Kenzo” are absent from the finished album, particularly the world-ending banger that plays from 2:40 to 4:20? If you haven’t done so already, please take 100 seconds to have your mind blown.

    • With you 100% – - the first thing I did after I saw the album jump to Youtube was to frantically seek through the tracks to find the stuff I liked from the Kenzo Mix. My fav was the 0:20-1:20 section. (That punch at 0:40!!)

    • el goodo NAILED it. I’m still trying to figure out if I’m disappointed or if this is a progression from this new wave of off kilter, non hook riffing post “Beez In The Trap” era. I love M.I.A to pieces and I’m totally down with her since Arular but in my musical fantasy pairings, I wish she would ring up Frank Nitt, Exile, Richard X, DJ Mackey, Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces, 9th Wonder, Hudson Mohawke, Jai Paul- any 1 of those people would deliver the M.I.A sound I’ve been craving and envisioning bringing out the best in her work. She has tremendous talent- but beat production especially these days is a slippery critical slope due to the enormity of selection that is out there. My Rick Rubin advice to her would be to ring any 1 of these folks up and give 1 of them a shot. I would put ALL my money on any 1 of these folks turning M.I.A out in the studio PROPER.

      • Well put. I’m still not sure what she was going for, but I can’t help but wonder how an M.I.A. album with that Yeezus-like (I know…I lose) dream team of producers would have sounded…especially Jai Paul, whose leaked tracks are the most underrated music of 2013 this side of the Kenzo mix. I’ve also been down since Arular and totally agree that she’s enormously talented, but I just know she’s got more “Bamboo Banga”/”Bird Flu” fuck-up-your-whole-afternoon (…and again) songs in her.

        • Right. Bird Flu is her most underrated jam I think. Agree that Jai Paul hands down killed every category in 2013. Jai Paul is 2013 2014 & 2015 all at once. Where Ratatat at ? Jai is giving me the Ratatat, Daft & Das Racist I’ve been craving. Pretty much Jai fever all around.

      • Madlib circa Beat Conducta Vol. 3-4. That’s what came to mind when I first listened to the Matangi for KENZO mixtape and was really stoked on the idea. That said, I’m personally am not too thrown that some of those sounds didn’t make the album. I’ve been listening to this the last couple of days and it’s solid throughout.

  6. Jai Paul has it all.

  7. It all goes back to Yeezus :p But a good review and even though I am not an M.I.A. fan, it sounds like a mix of the abrasive and the hook-y might be of interest.

  8. i still think the “stutterpop” you describe is really just fallout of the m.i.a./diplo breakup: some of the songs here (and pretty much all of /\/\/\Y/\) are just pale schizo-industrial imitations of the cohesive cut ‘n’ paste diplo & switch tracks that made her first two albums so wonderful.

    i still think m.i.a. shines best as the rapper who did paper planes and bad girls. part of me is enthusiastic about the risks being taken here, and i do think she’s in good hands with the weeknd. both tracks with him here are pretty phenomenal. but i still think the past 5 or 6 years have been wasted on /\/\/\Y/\, nutty interviews and the super bowl controversy. she may be varied, talented in different areas, but nobody can say she’s focused.

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