By Devon Chodzin ’19
I’m physically upset by what I have to do right now.
This week, I tasked myself with reviewing M.I.A.’s latest release, AIM, the fifth studio album from the London-based rapper. Before I dive into discussing AIM, allow me to preface this by explaining that, regardless of the contents of this album, M.I.A. has still proven herself to be a worthy favorite and a beacon of inspiration for women of the South Asian diaspora, whose art is frequently and unduly discounted from the mainstream. In addition to her music, M.I.A. has made a huge name for herself as a fashion icon and a radical activist for oft-overlooked South Asian causes. M.I.A. (aka Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasm) spent much of her youth in Sri Lanka as well, and uses her fame to amplify the voices of the most oppressed groups in Sri Lanka. She’s a jack of all trades and a master of all of them, which is a combination tough to find in the contemporary age, where specialization is so heavily enforced.
That being said, AIM was not very good, musically.
Throughout, tracks appear to have conflicting emphases – whether it be on the bass, on Arulpragasm’s vocals, or on some other rhythmic lines in the many layers of instrumentals (which, granted, can add interest). Some critics have hit the nail on the head when they describe some of M.I.A.’s aural decisions as being “abrasive,” and I can’t help but agree in reference to “Bird Song.” On the Deluxe edition, there are two versions of this song, one recorded with Blaqstarr as primary producer and the other with Diplo (her former partner). Several of her choices in production and alteration limit the potential in each track, such as her decisions to autotune herself into a box in “Borders” or, as she is prone to do in some tracks, rely on semi-tonal spoken word. While this may have worked for her in her blowup hit “Paper Planes” off of her third album, Kala, the execution throughout AIM leaves much to be desired.
Amidst a close listen, though, one can easily find the redeeming qualities in this album. As she is known to do,Arulpragasm allows her music to be political. She extends her politics in inviting artists of color to help her produce and lend their vocal talents. “Freedun,” the latest single off of AIM, features the one and only Zayn. M.I.A. has, for much of her career, been very obvious in her intention to highlight talent outside of the white paradigm.
Perhaps the saddest part of AIM is that M.I.A. declared it to be her last studio album after an illustrious musical career which began in 2000. As a longtime fan of her, I am disappointed that she chose to bow out of the music industry with such a mediocre album, but I understand that being an artist of many hats (and a mother – remember when she accepted a Grammy while in her third trimester?) is taxing.
My favorite track is, by far, “Survivor.” Unfortunately, the best tracks on the album are anchored down by messy works like “Bird Song” or “Freedun.” All in all, the album deserves approximately a 5 out of 10, for it offers some work of note and her radically beautiful politics do shine through. Unfortunately, AIM is an amalgamation of many separate ideas rather than a cohesive unit or concept, and the individual ideas often lack the structure I crave. I hope to hear more from M.I.A. in the future, but if this is truly her last venture in music, then I really hope that this is not the last time I see art of hers and I hope she produces true masterpieces in the visual arts or in the fashion industry. May M.I.A. remain in the public eye as the artist and activist extraordinaire she has established herself to be.
Perhaps the easiest way to stream or listen to AIM is via Spotify. Like many artists of a similar stature, M.I.A.’s releases are not easy to find on YouTube or music share-sites like Bandcamp or Soundcloud.
A playlist of the deluxe version is available from this link: