The politics of dancing: M.I.A.’s M^Y^

I’m going to act as if The New York Times Magazine story and Ann Powers‘ and Christgau’s reviews didn’t exist. Impossible to review M.I.A.’s MAYA in a vacuum, though. For one, vacuums trap light and emit no sound, and MAYA does no such thing. Her loudest, splashiest album, M.I.A. absents herself from agitprop a while to concentrate on felicity. Take “XXXO,” a mangled, stuttering cousin to a Debbie Deb or Lisa Lisa freestyle hit, no more or less “meaningful’ than Kala‘s “Jimmy,” yet its density suggests otherwise. The lyrical semaphore here adduces a surrender to the noise-making possibilities of collaborators Blaqstarr, Rusko, and Derek E. Miller, a move which in turn liberates her from expectations she couldn’t possibly meet. MAYA plays like an album full of “Bird Flu”s and “Bamboo Banga”s strung giddily together. The heart of the album is the middle stretch between “Lovealot” and “It Iz What It Iz” — fuzzy, loping variants on Arular‘s “Pull Up the People” in which the bustle of the arrangements mitigates the fuzzy, loping banality of one of her guiding principles (“All I ever wanted was my story to be told” ) but reinforces the strength of another (“I fight the ones that fight me”). Her voice is indistinguishable from scratches, distorted guitar peals, vocoders, effects pedals, and other synthesized doohickeys, the culmination of which is “Teqkilla,” M.I.A.’s “The Great Curve,” the thick, surging Talking Heads song climaxing with David Byrne’s strangled admission, “The world moves on a woman’s hips!” M.I.A. offers “He got 99 bananas but he ain’t my boo.” The closet she comes to a manifesto is the Suicide-sampling “Born Free.” She’ll throw this shit in our faces cuz she’s got something to say. You know the old joke: that’s what SHE SAID. And the subtext was S-E-X.

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