Review: M.I.A. — “/\/\ /\ Y /\”

M.I.A.’s third album blends melody and madness with mixed results

Tony Libera

The virtually un-Google-able album title, the artistâÄôs stage name built from gold bricks, MayaâÄôs mouth, concealed by glitched-out YouTube bars âÄî the cover of âÄú/\/\ /\ Y /\âÄù, like the album itself, is at once enticing, disorienting and clutteredIn her effort to deride technologyâÄôs ills, M.I.A. may have become the victim, losing her voice behind a wall of industrial sound. On multiple occasions the record falls into disarray, but a few moments of beauty do manage to rise from the techno tumult. âÄú/\/\ /\ Y /\âÄù opens with âÄúThe Message,âÄù a short track reproving the massesâÄô hyper-connectivity with the Internet, and then it careens into the squeal of saw blades on âÄúSteppin Up.âÄù Right away this album feels different from its predecessor, âÄúKala.âÄù ItâÄôs darker and discordant, lacking anything resembling âÄúPaper Planes ,âÄù the catchy, Clash-indebted killer that turned M.I.A. into a household name. The move to harsher sounds isnâÄôt necessarily a bad one, but at times thereâÄôs just too much going on and the songs become muddled by noise. M.I.A. usually knows the right time to pull on the reigns and harness the clamor, but on songs like âÄúTeqkillaâÄù she tends to cram the meters and the music winds up sounding abrasive rather than textured. That being said, âÄú/\/\ /\ Y /\âÄù does find moments of harmony, particularly (and surprisingly) on the tracks where M.I.A. swaps her trademark rap style for straight up singing. She may not be Aretha, but sheâÄôs not half-bad âÄî thereâÄôs charisma in the vocals thatâÄôs nothing short of alluring. The first single, âÄúXXXO,âÄù and âÄúTell Me Why âÄù are perhaps the best examples, with both songs benefitting from the mesmeric pop-vox choruses. Then thereâÄôs the cover of âÄúIt Takes a Muscle,âÄù an incredibly cheesy song by NetherlandsâÄô equally cheesy Spectral Display , which M.I.A. dusts off, polishes up and makes cool through her breezy croon. ThereâÄôs really only one callback to previous work, the overtly political âÄúLovalot.âÄù The song feels like classic M.I.A. in both the beats and the vocal delivery, but the lyrics, inspired by the deaths of a Russian/Islamic terrorist couple, expand her usual combativeness to new dimensions. The subject matter of âÄúLovalotâÄù will undoubtedly polarize listeners and the same goes for âÄú/\/\ /\ Y /\âÄù on the whole. M.I.A. is reaching for both her militant roots and her pop sensibilities, but while her prior efforts maintained a chaotic balance between the two, the latest turns into a farrago. ItâÄôs not that âÄú/\/\ /\ Y /\âÄù is a bad record, but it certainly lacks the same vision present on âÄúKala,âÄù M.I.A.âÄôs magnum opus. 2.5/4 Stars