Even though the official release date of her /\/\/\Y/\ album is still a week away, on Wednesday (July 7), [artist id=”1803648″]M.I.A.[/artist] decided to post the entire thing on her MySpace page, giving her fans a chance to hear a high-quality version of the album (as opposed to the lousy-sounding leak that’s already out there).
And, after a few spins, the question must be asked: Why did she even bother? Because /\/\/\Y/\ is most certainly a down-and-dirty, decidedly skuzzy-sounding thing, full of glitches and skips and digital detritus, dial-up squelches, pneumonic belches and all manner of blown-out bloop-bleep. It is perhaps the most lo-fi high-tech album ever created — rattling, buzzing and scraping, it sounds, for all intents and purposes, like the back alleys of the Internet.
Or, as M.I.A. put it last month , when we caught up with her in New York, it sounds just like the United States of America. At least to her, anyway.
“Everyone keeps saying, ’Why doesn’t it sound like the last one?’ ” she said. “But I think being … an artist [or] whatever, it wouldn’t be truthful for me to make a worldly sounding album when I was in America. So to me, I think it sounds really American — in an English-alien-in-America kind of way.”
/\/\/\Y/\ opens with the click-clack of computer keys, and then the fuzzed-out beat of “The Message” kicks in, over which a voice can be heard repeating a paranoid mantra that links Google to the government, and we’re off from there. “Steppin’ Up” — that’s the one with the pneumatic power tools — follows and then “Teqkilla,” a wacked-out mix of tablas, handclaps and vocal whoops that collides with blaring electronic sirens and M.I.A.’s singsong vocals.
First single “XXXO” is next, and the album version is miles different than the Blaqstarr remix she premiered back in May, featuring starry, club-ready beats in the chorus. It’s a rare clean moment on the album and a highlight, for certain. “Story to Be Told” opens with the sound of screaming jet engines, then picks up steam with a lithe, lipid electro backbeat and vocal chanting, as M.I.A. repeats the title over and over again on the hook.
“It Takes a Muscle” chirps along over a crackly Jamaican beat (which sounds like it’s coming from a radio in the next room) and features M.I.A. singing about — for the first time — actual love. “It Iz What It Iz” is hazy and lazy like a stoned summer afternoon, and listeners are likely to get whiplash when it abruptly smashes into the staccato drums and Suicide sample of the binge-and-purge “Born Free” (chances are you’ve seen the video ).
“Meds and Feds” is next, a neck-snapping mix of power chords and booming bass, handclaps and muffled gunshots (I’d wager it’s all the handiwork of Sleigh Bells guitarist Derek E. Miller), which just keeps getting louder and prouder until it spills over into “Tell Me Why.” With its marching-drum cadence and multi-tracked chorales, “Tell Me Why” is as close as the album comes to a genuine “cell phones in the air” moment. And /\/\/\Y/\ concludes with “Space,” a placid, really excellent tune featuring M.I.A.’s newfound singing voice (she’s actually pretty good), gently undulating electronic tendrils and starry burbles.
It’s grimy, it’s (sorta) gorgeous, it’s the kind of album that positively requires repeat listens. So it’s a good thing you can do that all day now. After all, work is overrated. /\/\/\Y/\ is the kind of album that doesn’t come around all that often; a densely packed thing, to be certain, but the firmest pressure usually produces the best diamonds. Of course, you’ve got to wipe the crud off ’em first. But that’s half the fun now, isn’t it?
What do you think of M.I.A.’s new album? Let us know in the comments!