Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

Consumer Guide:
  User's Guide
  Grades 1990-
  Grades 1969-89
  Expert Witness
Books:
  Is It Still Good to Ya?
  Going Into the City
  Consumer Guide: 90s
  Grown Up All Wrong
  Consumer Guide: 80s
  Consumer Guide: 70s
  Any Old Way You Choose It
  Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough
Xgau Sez
Writings:
  CG Columns
  Rock&Roll& [new]
  Rock&Roll& [old]
  Music Essays
  Music Reviews
  Book Reviews
  NAJP Blog
  Playboy
  Blender
  Rolling Stone
  Billboard
  Video Reviews
  Pazz & Jop
  Recyclables
  Newsprint
  Lists
  Miscellany
Bibliography
NPR
Web Site:
  Home
  Site Map
  What's New?
Carola Dibbell:
  Carola's Website
  Archive
Venues:
  Noisey
CG Search:
Google Search:
Twitter:

M.I.A. Vs. Diplo [extended]

  • Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 [no label, 2004] A-
  • Florida [Big Dada, 2004] *
  • Arular [XL, 2005] A
  • Kala [Interscope, 2007] A+
  • Maya (Deluxe Edition) [Interscope, 2010] A
  • Vicki Leekx Mixtape [vickileekx.com download, 2010] B+
  • Express Yourself [Mad Decent, 2012] B+
  • Matangi [Interscope, 2013]
  • Random White Dude Be Everywhere [Mad Decent, 2014] A-
  • AIM [Interscope, 2016] A

See Also:

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1 [no label, 2004]
Aesthetically, the choice is more like M.I.A. vs. the world, and though I know it's wrong of me, I'll take M.I.A. I'll take the conscious, autonomous individual artist, oppressive concept though that may be, over the welter of cultural forces from which she emerged. With a less complex and compelling artist I might make the opposite choice, though even the hippest mash-ups and mix tapes have less to say than they're given credit for. But I find more fascination--and pleasure, if not variety--in M.I.A. juxtaposed against herself than in, for instance, favela funk juxtaposed against "Walk Like an Egyptian." Which isn't to deny I also find all these good things in favela funk juxtaposed against "Walk Like an Egyptian." A-

Diplo: Florida [Big Dada, 2004]
Unlike true turntablism fans, I'm glad Shadow casts such a shadow ("Big Lost," "Sarah"). *

M.I.A.: Arular [XL, 2005]
The deepest cut on Arular is "Amazon," where M.I.A. the favela funk thief depicts herself as a cultivated Brit kidnapped by Brazilian criminals. She's missing from Acton, her London 'hood, but after she fell for that palm tree smell, "bodies started merging." The vertiginous excitement of pan-ethnic identity, so unlike the purity the Tamil Tigers kill for, imbues every pieced-together track, but only on "Hombre," a pidgin-Spanish proposition with a sitar intro, does it get quite so explicit. Violence is everywhere, dropped casually like a funk grenade or flaunted instructively as in the oft quoted "It's a bomb yo/So run yo/Put away your stupid gun yo." But not for a moment does the violence seem vindictive, sadistic, or pleasurable. It's a fact of life to be triumphed over, with beats and tunelets stolen or remembered or willed into existence. This is the territory I've always wished Missy Elliott would risk, and let's not be coy about how M.I.A. got there. "Banana Skit" starts the album with her only message: "Get yourself an education." A

M.I.A.: Kala [Interscope, 2007]
Less catchy and novel than 2005's Arular, this just gets stronger and more intelligent over time--compared to Arular, and also to Arcade Fire's Neon Bible or Radiohead's In Rainbows or, I don't know, Jay-Z's American Gangster. Where so many bands who consider tunes beneath them compensate with piddling portions of texture or structure, this record is full of things to listen to: zooms and scrapes and grunts and whistles and kiddie voices and animal cries, weird Asian drums and horns, down-home melodica and didgeridoo. Also, of course, bass bass bass--guitar, drum, whatever. The songs imagine and recreate an unbowed international underclass that proves how smart it is just by stating its business, which includes taking your money. The lyrics far cannier politically than those on Arular. But their proof is in the music. A+

M.I.A.: Maya (Deluxe Edition) [Interscope, 2010]
Since self-made celebrities with pretensions always stumble eventually, I figure it's my place in the food chain not to act like a hyena when they do. So I kept listening, and concluded that while this is no Kala, what is? Arular is the analogy, only there she strove to ingratiate and here she elects not to--with immensely more success than MGMT on Congratulations and rather more success than Kanye West on 808s and Heartbreak. The stark beats take some getting used to, and there are lyrical miscues that still make me wince when they catch my ear--only it's been a while, because I'm too busy loving those beats and the spunky, shape-shifting, stubbornly political, nouveau riche bundle of nerves who holds them together. I admit that I'm now less inclined to hear "Teqkilla" as a lust song for her just plain rich honey and more as a red flag about her alcohol consumption. But if you've ever been a fan, this isn't where to stop. Just play it a few more times than the fools who clocked dollars for the job and you'll get your money's worth. And I do mean on all 16 new songs--three of the four bonus tracks are upper 50th percentile for sure. A

M.I.A.: Vicki Leekx Mixtape [vickileekx.com download, 2010]
The fact that this was overrated as part of the same extra-musical chain reaction that caused Maya to be underrated doesn't mean it was merely well-timed and, as they say, well-played. It takes a while to congeal, but for fans there's spice aplenty in the skinny beats-for-their-own-sake that dominate a first half whose most memorable line is "try to outschool us so we jump on our scooters" (on "WWW/Meds/Feds" seven minutes in, and FWIW the Wikipedia times are 40 seconds off on my version). But after "Vicki Intermission" come three consecutive songs that'll make you madder than you were already that the artiste thought it provocative, as they say, to leave the album untracked: the well-hooked "Gen -N-E-Y" followed by "Bad Girls" and "Marsha/Britney." Theme statement: "You can have my money but you can't have me." Whether she's singing it for her penniless sisters or her affluent self is impossible to tell. That's why they call her provocative. Also, um, controversial. B+

Diplo: Express Yourself [Mad Decent, 2012]
It is a fate toward which all producers converge to be only as good as their frontpeople. So give it up to Sabi on "No Problem" and especially My Name Is Kay on the woozily provocative "Barely Standing"--both dubstep-identified, some would note, but I'm dubious--for lifting this six-song EP off its indubitably excellent beats. Of which the most self-sustaining are the moombahton "Butters Theme" and yet another in the long line of unclassifiable oddities that bear the title "Set It Off." B+

M.I.A.: Matangi [Interscope, 2013]
[2013 Dean's List: 33]

Diplo: Random White Dude Be Everywhere [Mad Decent, 2014]
Seven proven bangers gussied up with five remixes--in short, the obvious shit his base long ago had enough of d/b/a music for normal people seeking a pick-me-up. I suppose we could do without the remixes, but hell, excess is why he's richer than he is famous, and they're certainly not painful. In fact, I'm glad I don't have to choose between the two versions of the objectively counter-revolutionary "Revolution" or the N.O. bouncy "Express Yourself." I'm also glad a prev unrel featuring the prev useless Waka Flocka Flame bears the fetching title "Techno." A-

M.I.A.: AIM [Interscope, 2016]
Nothing has made me happier in this horrendous moment than Maya Arulpragasam's loopy, simplistic fifth album. Fuck you if you think it's "lightweight" or "confusing" or "aimless" or "ho-hum"--it's the hard-earned proof of the happiness she's achieved after years of fretting about the asinine shaming of 2010's excellent Maya for the crime of following Kala, which was only the greatest album of the century. As no one notices, her sonorities, scales, and tune banks have never been more Asian--mostly East Asian, especially up top, although I'm partial to the uncredited oud-I-think on "Ali r u ok." That's one more signal of the self-acceptance enjoyed by this refugee on an album she says is about refugees, as is her damn right as someone who migrated/fled from London to Sri Lanka to India back to Sri Lanka back to London to--after absurd bureaucratic hoohah--the USA. Never a convincing intellectual, she makes a point of keeping these lyrics beyond basic--declaring "we" a trope, jumping on the byword "jump," riffing on every stupid bird rhyme she can think of. The recommended non-"deluxe" 12-track version ends with one called "Survivor," which like it or not she is. "Men are good, men are bad/And the war is never over," she notes. "Survivor, survivor/Who said it was easy?/Survivor, survivor/They can never stop we." Takeaway: bad shit being her heritage, she intends to enjoy herself however bad the shit gets, and so should we. A