Matangi, MIA’s fourth studio album, is based upon the mythology of a girl named Matangi who lived 5000 years ago. Matangi became known as the goddess of music and spoken word as “she spoke truth to power by communicating through the heart.” That confidence is clear throughout the album as MIA makes use of classic instrumentation while blending it alongside undeniably modern elements and lyrical nods to Edward Snowden, KONY 2012, and other contemporary political figures and situations.
Of course this isn’t anything new for MIA. The rapper turned pop star has always found a way into the headlines, using music as a medium to speak to larger issues. Nothing is off limits when it comes to MIA’s soapbox. MIA is a voice for empowerment and her voice is heard loud and clear on Matangi.
The brief, yet striking, introduction in Karmageddon is evidence enough of this; a captivating and immersive bass line lay behind MIA’s effortlessly cool but incredibly provoking vocals. Matangi is a romp, as the album’s title track makes all too clear. Here, an unmistakable trap and EDM influence is heard throughout. Still, the vocals allow each and every song to come off as being completely original. Although all of the songs on Matangi will strike a chord to make you move, this is largely an anti-pop album. Sounds not commonly heard in popular music are implemented but somehow MIA turns them into pop anthems each and every time. On Warriors, it’s made clear that MIA wants to “put us in a trance” and that much has obviously been accomplished with this album.
Come Walk With Me sounds like Madonna on acid and it’s glorious. Exodus is an eyes-closed sway through the rainforest and becomes a song you’ll want to blast on repeat again and again. And then there’s Bad Girls, the first single from Matangi, which was released almost two years ago. This is MIA’s most euphorically accessible anthem since Paper Planes. It’s undeniably good and will fit in amongst other chart toppers, yet it still maintains enough of MIA’s unmistakable angst to deem it as something completely otherworldly.
The album’s shortest track, Boom Skit, is perhaps the albums most powerful as MIA makes multiple poignant, and aggravated, points towards our modern society. Although it sounds reminiscent of Die Antwoord, this is all laid before yet another intricate and fun beat that masks the aggravation that’s boiling beneath the music. This precedes the beachy and cool Double Bubble Trouble. What starts out as a stoner anthem quickly turns into EDM’s newest poster child. This juxtaposition goes on throughout the entire track and it works seamlessly proving MIAs diversity and versatility; it’s hard not to be impressed.
YALA, the most recent single to be released from the album, is a full on assault of pop culture making satirical references to the phrase Drake coined last year with YOLO. Aside from being an obvious banger of a track, YALA, or You Always Live Again, epitomizes the album as a whole as MIA chimes in towards the end of the song “If you only live once, then why do we keep doing the same shit?” It’s 2013 and after four albums, there still isn’t a single pop star out there that sounds like MIA. She has cultivated a sound and style that is completely her own, and with Matangi, has utilized it fully.
Although some of the songs on Matangi could induce headaches in those unfamiliar with MIA’s music (such as the overly abrasive Bring the Noize), this is a mostly an accolade towards MIA. With Matangi MIA has separated herself from the pack in an enormous way by staying true to her roots. Still, she has fully exploited trends of today’s musical landscape without allowing it to come off as generic. Furthermore, it’s certainly never boring. Some tracks are fast and ready for the dancefloor, while others are slow moving and thoughtful, such as album highlight Know it Aint Right.
Saying this is MIA’s best album would be an injustice to her already strong body of work. However, Matangi is a seriously strong, confident, and ultimately successful album. MIA is back and in a big way with her most cohesive album yet. While her vocals and skills as a rapper shine throughout, the production heard on Matangi, most of which was helmed by MIA herself, is nothing short of stellar. MIA is an artist, through and through, and furthermore she’s an artist with a message. She deserves our attention and is commanding it with Matangi. If you’re not listening by now, then you’re going to be left behind.
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