Tuesday, July 13, 2010


I don't like M.I.A. very much at all. I think she's stupid (and I'm not just talking about her entitled-art-student interview persona; her lyrics are forehead-slappingly clumsy, something none of her apologists, from Robert Christgau on down, has managed to explain away or defend convincingly), I can't stand her fashion sense or visual style, and though this has no bearing on her art, I shake my head in bafflement when people call her beautiful or sexy. (In media culture, once you become famous, you get declared sexy by default, I think.)

I bought each of her first two albums, right when the hype surrounding each had built to a sustained scream. They were available very cheaply at Target; otherwise, I might not have bothered at all, especially not the second time. Arular was primitive and intermittently fun; Kala was less primitive, much more calculated (experiments had calcified into a style), and less fun. But I bought them and listened to them because I felt obligated to do so. Many writers I knew personally, and even more of the writers I read (and considered my peers/competitors), could talk of anything else. I let my intellectual inferiority complex get the better of my taste (at least, where Kala was concerned, since I'd already heard Arular and should have known better).

(This was basically a repeat of what happened to me with Dizzee Rascal, by the way; I listened to a bunch of people whose taste didn't overlap with mine at all, really, but who were getting their opinions printed in places I wanted to someday see mine. I bought both the first and second albums, and liked one or two songs, but was the guy a genius? Not unless that word has been so devalued as to be like the ribbons everyone in a kindergarten soccer game gets for trying. I learned my lesson more quickly with dubstep, because I'd enjoyed various albums on the then-Brooklyn-based label WordSound Recordings years earlier and was able to file dubstep under "similar to WordSound, but not as good, and I'm over that anyway.")

So anyway, M.I.A.'s new album /\/\/\Y/\ came out yesterday, and the big news is that Pitchfork, which had been pretty relentlessly championing her since her emergence, even letting her take over their Twitter account for a day not long ago, panned the record. Hard.

Now that I've actually heard the record, I don't agree. Indeed, I think it's her best album to date. Of course, that's saying very, very little, because as I said at the outset, I think she's stupid and I don't like her first two albums at all. But this one has some pleasing qualities. Its noisiest tracks crib from industrial; there's a sampled air-gun (you know, the kind you'd use in a garage, to change tires) on "Steppin Up" that reminds me of the Revolting Cocks' "Stainless Steel Providers," and the drum assault that opens "Born Free," before the Suicide sample kicks in, is a straight steal from the beginning of Nine Inch Nails' The Downward Spiral. Some of the quieter, softer tracks remind me of Primal Scream's "Higher Than the Sun."

I don't know how many times I'm gonna wind up listening to /\/\/\Y/\. But if that number is higher than three, it'll be a new record.

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