Maya Arulpragasam—better known as M.I.A—successfully assembled the title of her third album into a series of lines and dashes, spelling out her first name. She also collided every sound she’s ever heard onto its sixteen tracks. The over-the-top clatter could be interpreted as a consequence of a generation with no attention span, but it could also be a sign that Maya doesn’t measure up to the rest of M.I.A’s arsenal. The jabbing of computer keys starts off album opener, “The Message,” a short blast of rhythmic candy that somewhat calmly leads to the storm of Maya.
M.I.A likes garnering attention; one of her latest media controversies includes the viral music video she released for “Born Free.” Its visual statement makes us associate brash guitars and liberated refrains with machine guns and warfare. All over Maya, though, it seems like the outspoken London native went out of her way to keep the spotlight on herself. Problem is, she doesn’t always know where to draw the line between sonic creativity and overexertion. The polyrhythmic beat of “Teqkilla” makes it as danceable as anything on 2007’s Kala, but squalling bursts of synth feedback flood the song with frequencies that’ll make a dog cringe.
Despite some of its missteps, Maya has treasures to explore. Nothing screams ‘next big thing’ like “XXXO,” where M.I.A croons (yes, she sings on Maya), “You’re tweeting me like Tweety Bird on your iPhone.” She borrows a growling metal riff from label-mates Sleigh Bells for “Meds and Feds,” and it serves as a playful backdrop for her magnetic spitfire wordplay. “It Takes a Muscle” finds M.I.A mastering Auto-tuned vocals in a laid-back dub groove.
M.I.A stays true to her genre-hopping ways, changing styles drastically between songs. One minute, she raps over a punchy electro-beat about computers crashing in “Internet Connection,” and the next, she’s rhyming ‘Springsteen’ with ‘tight jeans’ in “Illygirl,” fast-paced dance number for club-goers. Listening to Maya, we travel around the world and back, crossing time periods, cultures, and lifestyles. All we need now is a translator for M.I.A’s disparate ideas.