[sic] Magazine

MIA – /\/\ /\ Y /\

If an android ever decided to travel the world and make hip-hop music, the result might be something like M.I.A.’s third album, /\/\ /\ Y /\ (which I’m going to call MAYA because it’s easier to type!). All that world music gets put on the backburner here – MAYA is M.I.A.’s deliciously odd hip-hop wrapped in a metallic electronic shell, but somehow there are only glimpses of her colorful, eccentric style.

It opens with blurry computerized vocals rambling about iPhones and the web. That segues into electric drills, frantic beats,and M.I.A. sounding like an android dominatrix, “I light up like a genie and I blow up on this song/Aladdin; no kiddin’, boy I need a rub… Basslines and cars anything fast/Know who I am, run this f in’ club!”

After that, she launches into the clubbier electropop of ‘XXXO’, which is the sort of fun but fluffy song that they turn into lead singles. The really good stuff happens when that song ends — hypnotic singsong raps, schizophrenic synth circuses, chilly spacey electronica, gently funky pop, powerful eruptions of booming rap and clattering drums, wild spurts of grinding rock, swipping stretches of slow electronica, and echoing galaxies of poppy rap.

It was actually kind of a sad experience to listen to MAYA. I started out wildly excited by M.I.A.’s new electronic sound, imagining the wild, weird things she would do with those effects. But as the album played, I kept thinking over and over, ‘Well… that song was nice. Not great, but nice. Maybe the next one will be the awesome one….’ and that song was nice too, but not great. That pretty much applied to the whole album.

Now don’t get me wrong, M.I.A.’s musical genius shines brightly on some of these songs. ‘Teqkilla’ is pure insane delight, and there are flickers of genius with ‘It Takes a Muscle’ and the booming ‘Born Free’. Her warm voice gets to both rap and sing here ( “You could try to find ways to be happier/You might end up somewhere in Ethiopia/You can think big with your idea/You ain’t never gonna find utopia!” ), sounding alternately innocent and brashly hot-blooded.

But it feels like M.I.A. wasn’t entire comfortable with all the keyboards, electronic twiddles and power tools, because in at least half these songs she doesn’t really DO anything with what she has. There’s an electronic beat, some reverb voice, a few sound effects… and that’s it. As a result, songs like ‘Tell Me Why’ and the clubby ‘It Iz What It Iz’ are just typical electropop, and ‘Story To Be Told’ is downright boring.

MAYA has brilliant songs here and there, but M.I.A.’s creative hip-hop seems to have taken a back seat on this one — those flashes of genius are stuck between half-hearted electronica that just needed more musical TLC.