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  M.I.A. - Arular - XL Records
Rating: 4 out of 5 Rating: 4 out of 5 Rating: 4 out of 5 Rating: 4 out of 5

by Russ Marshalek

To the music world at large, Maya Arulpragasam came from absolutely nowhere. All right, to be fair, the heated heart of Sri Lankan civil war isn't exactly nowhere. In fact, it was from this hellish center that the woman who would be M.I.A. was formed, and where the ideas that would become Arular, the album that's rearing up to bite electronic music on its ass, first originated. A hip-hop-fascinated child of a politically-active, revolutionary father, Maya eventually earned her way to London's Central Saint Martins Art School, where her interest in visual arts led her, eventually, to a sold-out debut show, reprinted in a collection simply titled "M.I.A." After the long-lost Justine Frischman, frontwoman of Elastica, commissioned Maya to design an album cover, the relationship led to Maya's film and video skills being used for an Elastica tour documentary. The resulting experience on the road found Maya for the first time beginning to explore sonic art instead of visual after being introduced to the Roland 505 by electro-rapper Peaches, and the rest, as they say, is history. A demo tape was made. People were fucking astounded. Maya Arulpragasam became M.I.A. And the entire story reads like an astounding "who's who" of a girl making good a dream. Well, except for the enormous tragedy that the name-dropping in the M.I.A. story tends to gloss over. Remember that she grew up poverty-stricken, centered and focused in the midst of daily violent bloodshed, with a father whose fight for independence earned him the name "Arular," after which her album is named. These are the sort of experiences which frame a young psyche, and if her beats weren't so fucking fresh, the words enfolding them would be almost too tragic to bear.

Having teamed up with a handful of under-the-radar but impossibly talented producers, it's the work of one in particular that is coming to the most notice. Diplo, of the intelligently crunk Hollertronix crew, has begun getting massive acclaim for his molding of Brazilian baile funk onto M.I.A.'s socially, politically and sexually-conscious raps. Now, before you go jumping to find the "Ministry of Sound Presents Baile Funk" compilation, there are a few things you should know: The first, and most important, is that two-step garage this ain't. Baile funk is a hard, desperate music, falling somewhere between breakbeat and jungle, belayed by its slick sound and ability to harness a bassline and rock a dancefloor. The purpose of Brazilian baile funk is to, essentially, soundtrack massively violent, cement-court throwdowns in which kids dance, (to music about drugs, violent sex, and crime), get fucked up, and kill each other. That's to put it lightly. After touring Brazil as a guarded guest of some of the top baile funk DJs, Diplo returned to the U.S. with a newfound respect and love for the sound. It's this biting, utter urgency that fuses so well with M.I.A.'s hard-won war-torn narratives. After all, this is a sound people die to.

And oh, what a sound it is. Matching and mashing baile funk's extreme intensity, along with its intricately slick production, M.I.A., Diplo, and a small shaking of other producers (including Richard X) have taken the demo tapes created on a 505 and produced the stunningly on-point Arular. One part political call-to-arms, one part summer work-out tape for your Jeep, the bass is thick and the synth stabs come nasty like, well, a literal stab in the back. From the moment Arular's first full track, the poverty-inspired political call-to-arms "Pull Up The People," begins, M.I.A. makes her place and her intentions known. "I've got the bombs to make you blow/I've got the beats to make you bang" she insists. And despite the fact that her voice is pitchy, gravely and razor-sliced like a strange cat you just can't trust, you think you believe her. And by the time the gun-shot fire kicks that open "Bucky Done Gun" give way to the bass that's every speed garage track's wet dream, you KNOW you believe her. The track's Diplo-fashioned electrobreak anxiety is like Rhythm Nation 1814 on really, really good bathtub meth.

Lyrically, M.I.A. gives just as hard, with just as much intensity as the beats. Check her schoolgirl ODing on Redbull-esque flow over "10 Dollar," and let yourself rock out to Richard X's musical genius, before you start listening to the lyrics. In a tale of a little girl that sounds all too familiar, M.I.A. sings "Lolita/was a man-eater/clocked him like a taxi meter…/she skipped away to the shop/she found she didn't have enough/she clocked him looking right at her/and sucked on a lollipop." Yeah. Oh, wait, sorry, the innuendo not enough for you? How about one of the album's most awesomely heart-wrenching lines, when she matter-of-factly states "Need money? Paid him with the knees up." And that's not even including the gun-cocking-step sample on "Galang," over which M.I.A. sings "Pray and you will pull through/suck-a-dick'll help you." Don't stop to listen to the lyrics while you're on the dance floor, or you will definitely lose your hedonistic groove. Even the reggae-inflected chill of "Sunshowers" is misleading via its dub, as M.I.A. informs, in a voice that's frighteningly placid, "It's a bomb yo /so run yo /put away your stupid gun yo." In the end, the balance of hard, swift, flawless production and a verbal dagger sharpened to kill leaves Arular completely devastating…like a bomb.

At Amazon.com

Arular from Amazon.com Arular
by M. I. A.

Tracks:

  1. Banana Skit
  2. Pull Up the People
  3. Bucky Done Gun
  4. Fire Fire
  5. Freedom Skit
  6. Amazon
  7. Bingo
  8. Hombre
  9. One for the Head Skit
  10. 10 Dollar
  11. Sunshowers
  12. Galang Listen Listen

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