"I think my album's really diverse, because I tried to make a 3-D version of who I was. Maybe that's because I made it in the year when everything was f---ing 3-D, like 'The World Cup ... in 3-D!' 'Toothpaste adverts in 3-D!' And I was like 'Fine, I'll make an M.I.A. album in 3-D,' " she told MTV News. "And ... that's what I did. Sonically, it's a 3-D album, it's not this one-dimensional, shiny pop album, or, like, f---ed up dub-step album. It's just 3-D. You're not always high all the time, going like, 'Oh my God, life's so great! [I'm] at the beach!' It's way more complex that that, and I think it has those levels in it."
And /\/\/\Y/\ (which hits stores Tuesday) is most certainly complex, an album of multi-tiered dissonance, of whoops and wails, squelches and scuzz. From the paranoid rattle of opening track "The Message" to the stoned-out babble of closer "Space," M.I.A. and her cadre of producers (a team that, this time around, included not just frequent collaborator Diplo — he of the "turd" comment — but also Blaqstarr, Rusko and Switch) go to great lengths to pack the album with as much sonic detritus as possible ... everything from pneumatic tools (on "Steppin' Up") to screaming jet engines ("Story to Be Told"), with Suicide samples, handclaps, tablas, Jamaican radio chatter, muffled gunshots and an army of power chords thrown in for good measure.
It's enough to make your head swirl ... or possibly explode. And it sounds that way because, during the year-plus she spent working on the album, M.I.A. very much felt like she would explode, too. Barred from leaving the country, pregnant with her first child, watching her homeland of Sri Lanka slog through the last stages of a bloody civil conflict, she felt helpless, confused and downright frustrated by everything going on around her. And /\/\/\Y/\ is the sound of her inner turmoil.
"The last album was more about the environment and where you ended up and the people you met ... on this one, there was just so much going on in my own world, and in my own life — whether it's personal or professional — [that] there's just no room for all that stuff," she said. "And I'm still working off things I've seen and been inspired by that I haven't fully explored in my other two albums. And so, having all that, and then with all this extra sh-- that was going on in my personal life, I think it worked out great that I couldn't leave the country, and I was just, like, locked up in a cave. It gave me time and space to just puke all this stuff out that was going on in my own life."
So while it's by no means easy listening, /\/\/\Y/\ isn't supposed to be. Born out of intense personal strife, it represents M.I.A. at her most cathartic, her most detached, her most free. Does all of that make for radio-friendly pop? Not especially. Does it make for an absolutely compelling listen? Most definitely.
"I couldn't even register another human being, or another influence, or the scene and the music that's going on outside. I've always been like that, I've always been out there ... and been really connected to everything and everyone before," she said. "And this was the first time I had to just take time out and I think this is the music that reflects all the stuff that was going on — sometimes it was confusing and sometimes it was great."