Album Reviews

Matangi – M.I.A. (2013)

Rating: 9.6/10

Yeezus came out this summer and Kanye West’s blaring hip hop beats of abnormal sounds were unmatched. Nothing else sounded as blaring and as bombastic as West did this year when it came to hip hop, or even mainstream music in general. That was the case until M.I.A. came back with some of her best material yet on the rush that is Matangi. Kanye West named his album from a portmanteau of his nickname (Yeezy) and the name Jesus, resembling the Christian human decedent of God. M.I.A. named her album after not just herself (her birth name is Mathangi), but after the Hindu goddess Matangi. It’s safe to say that musical “Gods” are amongst us, and it is apparent that they aren’t happy. It may be difficult to not compare these two musicians, who are two of the best in their respective genres, with these two albums, but in the end, Matangi has sneaked in at the end of the year to bare its teeth and let Kanye West know that there was an enemy hidden amongst the bushes all along.

Matangi is a large improvement of M.I.A.’s last album /\/\ /\ Y /\ and is her best work since her acclaimed album Kala. As per usual with any M.I.A. album, Matangi is a very driven album with elements of world music and electronic experimentation. Kala felt more of a celebration of life, where its many different sounds sounded like a call and answer from various corners of the world. Matangi is much more urgent. The clever use of Indian instruments and vocal stylings to mimic hip hop sirens isn’t for novelty purposes but to cause alarm. This is an album of rebellion. It isn’t as full of hatred as much as it is full of ambition and passion. This is the soundtrack to fight against the world with. With lyrics about Kony, WikiLeaks, the state of countries like Iran and the title track that calls many countries of the world to unite, Matangi is the first time M.I.A. has used her collective of world music to represent the world uniting to fight, not just uniting to love.

The bass is very deep as the resonating echoes from each bass hit coasts under the upper layers of instruments. The music hits you from afar as much as it hits you from mere centimeters from your face. With M.I.A.’s voice being spliced and pasted together like a ransom letter, her voice becomes a bit of a unique instrument itself. In Only 1 U, her voice repeats the song title and is sampled over again and again furiously. In a similar way, her voice works as a percussive instrument during Bring the Noize, causing an animalistic vibe throughout the song (especially with how angry she is lyrically here). Much like her voice is messed around with at any time, the music works the same way like experiments in a lab going wrong (but here, they are successes). The bass in one song may drastically change at the flick of a switch. In Double Bubble Trouble, one of the most inventive songs of the year, reggae is fused with trap music, combining two feel good genres (one through relaxation, the other through excitement) that tug the song between one another thus causing constant shifts whenever the song feels like it.

On that note, M.I.A. doesn’t just experiment with music of different genres and nationalities as per usual. Here, she tries to travel time by combining eras as well. Come Walk with Me, another particular album highlight, M.I.A. channels Ronnie Spector vocally as she imagines what kind of music Phil Spector would make if he was into modern electronic music. The rhythms follow standard 60’s pop girl procedures at M.I.A.’s command (her use of being her own back up singers is clever here) until the song instantly explodes into futuristic tribal music, mimicking the blazing speeds of technology. With the paired tracks Exodus and Sexodus (which feature a sample of The Weeknd), M.I.A. jumps back to the 90’s when musicians like Massive Attack ring through the emotions of these tracks. Exodus is the powerful first twin that stands still in the middle of the album against the world. Sexodus is the song that is standing alone as it is being whisked away from the world, having either been captured and defeated or having won after everyone else gave up and lost. Either way, these two songs are insanely clever. Exodus carries on the vibe of the album. Sexodus echoes the album as it once was once the album reaches its cooling down latter songs.

Matangi is M.I.A.’s most cohesive album yet. It keeps its jolting pace of fighting songs throughout most of the album until it hits Lights (which is a song that takes some getting used to until you understand its purpose as M.I.A. sings about keeping her distance to shine much like this song does). The album comes down as the rioting hits the darkest part of the night. M.I.A.’s talk about politics is never overbearing, and her unity of typical hip hop lyrics with world music is still as striking as ever. The album is titled after her birth name, bringing her down to Earth, whilst being named after the Hindu goddess of music. As Yeezus fights against racism and capitalism, Matangi unites the world and fights against being trodden over. Matangi and Yeezus will unquestionably fight as the two most unconventional mainstream albums of the year, but in the end they are a great pairing of albums and are splendid competition. Suddenly, the prize for the album that pushes modern hip hop and pop music the furthest this year doesn’t seem so obvious.

About author

Former Film Editor & Music Writer at Live in Limbo. Co-host of the Capsule Podcast. A Greek/South African film enthusiast. He has recently earned a BFA honours degree in Cinema Studies at York University. He is also heavily into music, as he can play a number of instruments and was even in a few bands. He writes about both films and music constantly. You should follow him on Twitter @Andreasbabs.