Track by Track: M.I.A.’s /\/\ /\ Y /\

By , Jun 23 2010

Earlier this week we finally took delivery of /\/\/\YA [Maya], the new album from MIA.

Due for release on July 12 via N.E.E.T. and XL Recordings, the album features production from Rusko, Diplo, Blaqstarr and Switch. Stylistically there are shades of dubstep, dancehall, B-more and electro, but it’s credit to MIA and her collaborators that Maya ultimately sounds like nothing so much as “MIA music”.

Whatever you think of the outspoken MC and style icon, there’s no denying that a new album bearing her name is a significant occasion.  What follows is a track-by-track review of the album, based purely on our first impressions. You can listen to short clips of all the tracks here.


1. THE MESSAGE

Easily dismissed intro track, with an apparently male voice intoning in staccato: “Headbone connects to the headphones / Headphones connect to the iPhone / iPhone connects to the Google / Google connects to the government.” Woah, that’s deep, we never thought of it like that. ‘The Message’ comes over like a conspiracy theorist’s take on Fujiya & Miyagi’s ‘Collarbone’ – and not in a good way – but we do rate the fact that Google is referred to as ‘the Google’ throughout. We’re going to use that.

2. STEPPIN UP

This is more like it. A cavernous tribal riddim that harks back to the glorious jaggedness of Arular, and MIA at her wily singjaying best. Even the descent into full-on dubstep wobble towards the track end works (proof that Rusko’s influence on Maya has been largely benign).

3. Xxxo

Is this the most conventionally “pop” track that MIA has ever recorded? Quite possibly. It has its moments, but to be honest you could easily mistake it for Katy Perry or Pussycat Dolls, boasting as it does the kind of sub-electroclash instrumental chassis that has characterised purpose-built chart fodder for, oh, the entire last decade . That said, the strained chorus and refrain of “You want me be somebody who I’m really not” will probably work a treat on the dancefloors of provincial cheese clubs. In other words, it’ll be huge.

4. TEQKILLA

This is what MIA does best – MCing obliquely about “getting a shot of teqkilla in me” over a minimal, hard-snapping and pleasingly dirt-flecked drum tattoo. Might be a little insubstantial at the end of the day, but there’s no way a raw club track about getting pissed (metaphorically or otherwise) ain’t going to have legs.

5. LOVALOT

Ooh, we like this one. In fact, we, er, lovalot. Not sure what exactly MIA’s chatting about (Bob Marley and Gandhi are among those referenced in the lyrics – is she comparing herself to them? Probably…), but the refrain of “I fight the ones that fight me” is an easy sentiment to get behind. The stripped-back, 808-dry drum sounds contribute to make this sound like an earthier, less flashy update of Richard X’s killer production on the likes of ’10 Dollar’.

6. STORY TO BE TOLD

“All I ever wanted was my story to be told,” intones MIA over a dubstep-paced track that that delivers ample bass-wobble and siren blasts with a rare elegance and restraint. One of the album’s highlights, for sure.

7. IT TAKES A MUSCLE

Maya‘s answer to ‘Paper Planes’, this sunny reggae number is pretty much impossible to dislike – the immediacy of its lyrics, maggot-melody and squelchy instrumentation remind us of nothing so much as severely underrated Vampire Weekend side-project Discovery.

8. IT IZ WHAT IT IZ

Bizzare, wonderful track that teams taut martial beats with synth lines that wouldn’t sound out of place on Brian Eno’s Before And After Science. It’s numbers like this that remind you how, for all her silliness, MIA remains oddly vital and frankly irreplaceable.

9. BORN FREE

You’ll know this one by now. Scuzzy, mildly embarrassing pop-punk that reminds us of The Prodigy’s risible ‘Fuel My Fire’ cover. In fairness it’s not quite as bad as that, and it sits much better here as part of an album than it does as a stand-alone. But still.

10. MEDS AND FEDS

The guitars are back for ‘Meds And Feds’ – ebullient, sugar-coated power chords that sound like they were nicked from The Offspring, set to a pounding techno beat and incomprehensible but stirring vocal chants. Horrible and compelling, it will probably be a massive hit at the Underage Festival. And in America.

11. TELL ME WHY

Another absolute beauty. Soaring African-style vocal harmonies that remind us of The Very Best (or the BBC’s World Cup coverage) ride tough, rat-tat-tatting drums and dreamy synth-strings.

12. GRAVITY

A soft-hearted number to finish with, MIA’s lyrics straddling the confessional and psychedelic as she casts herself in the role of a lonely cosmonaut orbiting the Earth. “My lines are down, you can’t call me…”

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