Music Reviews

M.I.A. Arular

(XL) Rating - 8/10

I suppose fair warning is due, as this caused me at least five minutes of entirely unwarranted confusion. The US and UK versions of M.I.A.'s Arular don't really match up. I realize this is common practice, but I for one feel cheated. Track listings for the uninitiated:


01 Banana Skit

02 Pull Up The People

03 Bucky Done Gun

04 Fire, Fire

05 Freedom Skit

06 Amazon

07 Bingo

08 Hombre

09 One For The Head Skit

10 10 Dollar

11 Sunshowers

12 Galang / M.I.A.

13 M.I.A


01 Banana Skit

02 Pull Up The People

03 Bucky Done Gun

04 Sunshowers

05 Fire Fire

06 Dash The Curry

07 Amazon

08 Bingo

09 Hombre

10 One For The Head Skit

11 £10

12 Uraqt

13 Galang

On April 18th, the latter was released. Meanwhile, this American has access only to the former. My apologies in advance for not getting around to your extra-fancy additional tracks. Hmph.

That being said, my first encounter with Maya Arulpragasam, codename M.I.A., was on the Internet. A friend sent me the shoddy little Quicktime file of the now notorious Galang video, and there she was - a gorgeous South Asian, all high tops and leggings and oversized sweatshirts, dancing around in front of neon spray paint. We danced around, too, like idiots, thinking it was the Greatest Thing Ever. But we still kind of assumed it was a joke. A really catchy joke.

Little did I know that she would become this year's next big thing, gracing every magazine's features section and raising the eyebrows of controversy the globe over. Everything from Rolling Stone to Nerve to Venus to the ever-pretentious Pitchfork have her pegged as the most promising debut in years. The focus is always on her troubled past, her Sri-Lankan heritage, her father's involvement in the Tamil Tigers and the militant nature of her lyrics. I'd rather talk about her music - ironically and surprisingly overlooked.

What makes M.I.A. so good is her simplicity. Not quite electro-clash, not quite hip-hop, not quite grime, she's a world onto herself with little more than a groovebox and her voice to sustain her. More important to the music than her politics, her voice is a seamless addition to her beats. It functions like another instrument, often mixed and doubled over for full effect. The last track, M.I.A., opens in just this way, her "dang-dang-d-d-dang-dang" trilling over a harsh bass line. Sunshowers, perhaps the most minimalist of Arular's tracks, lays down the perfect bongo beat under M.I.A.'s rhythmic lyrics. Unlike most rap where the words and music seem to work independently of each other, M.I.A.'s signature brand weaves back and forth between the two in unspoiled unison.

Above all, the album is exciting. Far beyond the popular "World Music" label it has acquired, Arular is a fantastic amalgamation of dozens of styles, too many to be classified by one, perhaps even deserving of a whole new genre. M.I.A. should be a club standard, if she isn't already, shaking hips from L.A. to Tokyo. Sure, her lyrics are rebellious and controversial, but try to close your eyes and tune out instead. Focus on the perfectly placed repetitions, the mixture of tribal and electronic beats, the pulse of her voice undulating in and out of the drums. Sound pretty sexy? It is. Listen to this record and just try not to dance.