Considering M.I.A.—real name Maya Arulpragasam—has claimed that AIM will be her last album, its status as something that both explores her past and encompasses something new for her makes a lot of sense. With a lot of career throwbacks mixed in with a newfound pop sensibility that mixes with her embracing of her culture and the political issues all foreigners face in America, this is a full-circle moment for M.I.A.; it’s not exactly her best work ever, but the perfect end point for her music across the years.
From the political statement behind Borders to the storytelling style of Ali R U OK?, there’s hint of every period of Arulpragasam’s music on AIM. It’s a melting pot of musical styles, from the synthpop beat and gun sounds in Finally to the mixture of Skrillex’s hectic, noisy production and Arulpragasam’s fixation for traditional music on Go Off and A.M.P. (All My People). It’s extremely cohesive in its sound, but twists the sound in many different ways that creates a varied, interesting style.
Perhaps because of its more pop-focused production, the album almost feels a little too general and calm for M.I.A., with Zayn’s feature on Freedun being the epitome of this; it’s a great song, and Zayn works well in conjunction with Arulpragasam on the track, but it could almost pass as someone else’s song entirely. The use of clashing swords as an integral part of the beat of Swords and the bizarre, chirping bird sounds and kazoo effects that make up the entirety of Blaqstarr’s minimal version of Bird Song cause these oddball songs to shine more than anything on the album, standing out with their weirdness and showing off the more bombastic side of M.I.A. that this album largely lacks. They make the overall cohesion of the rest of the album’s songs much more bearable, even if these weird off-setting moments are few and far between.
AIM isn’t M.I.A.’s best work, but it’s got the flavour of her entire career behind it to make it stand out as a notable piece of work. The pop flavour makes it a much more accessible piece of work even as it remains a typical Arulpragasam album, and both old M.I.A. fans and pop music aficionados should find something to be happy with on the album. It’s not as groundbreaking as M.I.A. has been known to be in the past, but AIM is a solid album for her to be releasing at this stage in her career regardless of whether or not it truly is her final album.