aug 30

8 Notes on the New M.I.A. Album

Because I don't have time to write a legit record review, here are some quick notes on listening to Kala:

8) First, the politics. Maya's critics seem to present her songs as equivocally advocating various causes. This seems foolish. I suspect what MIA is actually doing is more like acting. And I don't mean just conveniently sampling subversive agitprop (she seems to legitimately understand the cultural issues). Rather, Maya uses songwriting to play out the roles of various third-world revolutionary characters. So when you hear her talking about the Tamil Tigers or Palestine, it's not exactly "her opinions" as much as the voice of people she's encountered. Critics insist on imposing autobiography on this album, but it seems more like contemporary historical fiction.

7) Someone could write an entire review of Kala's aggressive stance against being danceable.

6) It's difficult to come up with musical comparison points with MIA -- The Clash is probably the best lazy comparison right now. But do you know who Maya should really be compared to? Star architects. I'm totally serious -- they fly around the world, observe a society, pick up pieces local culture, and adapt it to their own style. MIA is a starchitect. She's more like Rem Koolhaas than Gwen Stefani.

5) Most confusing culture reference on the new album: "Price of living in a shanty town just seems very high / But we still like T.I."

4) Second place: "So I woke up with my Holy Koran / And found out I like Cadillac."

3) And yet: "Sex is cheap / I get it at the KFC."

2) The best song on the album is "Paper Planes," which also happens to be produced by the somewhat estranged Diplo. As Margaret said to the me the other day, there's never been a better song in which sound effects replace words. But beyond all that, the production of the song is so strange -- it has a reggae-light beat, but the sounds underneath are totally like nothing else.

1) This is the only album I can think of in which the remixes will likely be better than the album. And it's not because the songs are bad, but rather because there's something sorta raw about the tracks. It's like an album of source-material.


nice "review" of the album. totally agree with the "paper planes" note - and the 'starchitect' comment is very, very interesting.

posted by tim at 5:50 PM on August 30, 2007

FYI, the main loop in "Paper Planes" is a sample of the beginning of The Clash's Straight to Hell.

posted by MattS at 8:36 PM on August 30, 2007

Yeah (and I should've mentioned that), but listen to how it layers over something that sounds like guitar but could be several instruments.

posted by Rex at 11:14 PM on August 30, 2007

Not having heard the album, but the gushing you're doing sounds like the gushing I did when I discovered and started plumbing studio master Kate Bush. Any chance of a Bush comparison?

posted by Brian at 9:42 AM on August 31, 2007

The one thing this review has going for it is that it's short. Regardless of your "suspicions" toward M.I.A.'s implementations of empty, superficial political rhetoric, it remains empty and superficial. Trying to distance the artist from this fact by inventing an alleged character is extra-textual. There's nothing in M.I.A.'s music that supports your claim that she's "acting" out fictional or composite characters in her songs.

The comparison with "starchitects" is just fanboy gushing. I cannot comprehend the urge that M.I.A. fans have for elevating her beyond a purveyor of moderately competent dance music. She flies around the world and hears sounds and incorporates them into her music. Wow! Nobody's ever done that before! Every review of Kala insists on picking apart every minute aspect of the record for some sort of post-modern high-art meaningfulness but it just isn't there. She samples, she makes beats, she covers some foreign songs, makes meaningless references to revolutionary movements... this isn't exactly groundbreaking stuff, guys.

Maybe Fergie's next record will namecheck Baader-Meinhoff and we can all have a nice big hissy fit over her.

posted by mpb at 2:41 PM on August 31, 2007

Clarification: my use of "gushing" was not intended to be insulting or withering.

posted by Brian at 3:27 PM on August 31, 2007

If I had a bit more time, I would expand on my "extra-textual" theory of acting in MIA. There's actually plenty to support this claim, including the ways she contradicts herself with different causes, how she inflects differently around different characters (songs), and so forth.

The comparison to starchitects is indeed fanboy gushing -- but it's not just fanboy gushing.

posted by Rex at 4:01 PM on August 31, 2007

I think the reason there's so much dissection of something like M.I.A. is the postmodern split between artist and work and artistic intention and the final (and, of course, never final) product.

You could write a fucking dissertation on the performance of masculinity and race on a 50 Cent album, despite the fact that it's probably a bit stupid. M.I.A. seems to work because she draws on so many different frames of reference. Right or wrong, vacuous or political, that's the reason it's so ripe for analysis - what is a music review except an attempt to assert one aesthetic/intellectual frame of reference over another. Why else say "this is not original" if not to insist on the need for originality, or state that "the beats are weak" if not to argue the superiority of particular sorts of beats? So M.I.A. gets to the impetus for a public debate over authenticity, genre and the politics of aesthetics (and vice versa) regardless of what Maya herself intends.

Jesus - why the fuck am I not putting this on my *own* blog? Oh yeah - 'cause Rex has me wasting time thinking about Trapped in the Closet... ;)

posted by Nav at 4:30 PM on September 2, 2007

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