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M.I.A. Releases “MATANGI”

John Darr | Monday, November 4, 2013

“MATANGI” should come with a six-step manual that goes like this: apply aviator sunglasses, grab nearest Nerf gun, obtain obnoxiously large boom box, insert “MATANGI,” assemble posse, march around campus, profit.

Then again, “MATANGI” is the sort of album that implies that you should be doing that sort of thing. M.I.A. has never been one for subtlety – her albums are full of huge beats, lyrical mantras and massive samples. As the daughter of a Sri-Lankan social activist on the run from the government, M.I.A.’s impoverished, war-filled childhood shaped her into a social warrior of sorts, pushing her to make powerful music aimed to raise awareness of global issues. Her debut album, “Arular,” showcased M.I.A.’s unique hybrid of hip-hop and world music with relatively simple and stripped-down instrumentation. Over her next two albums, M.I.A. stuffed more and more into her sound, resulting in an exciting balance on sophomore album “Kala” but a cluttered mess on follow-up “MAYA.” 

Thankfully, “MATANGI” reverses this trend, cleaning up “MAYA’s” sound with better layering and spacing sounds. An armada of samples and synths explodes and retreats throughout the album, allowing songs to mount insane energy without overheating. This production style ensures that “MATANGI” is a hook-filled monster with a thousand memorable moments. Whether it’s the Mac-computer volume sound effects during the buildup on “Come Walk With Me” or the sputtering base drop on “Warriors.” bursts of energy continually drive “MATANGI” forward. 

“MATANGI” is also incredibly successful due to its ability to recast common trends in music in new and exciting forms. The bass heavy, reverb jam of “Lights” sounds like a Lorde song chanted to tribal drums. “Double Bubble Trouble” pairs the lowered-vocals and dubstep and rap hybrid of A$AP Rocky’s “Wild for the Night” with Middle Eastern instruments to give life to that sound. “Exodus” and “Know It Ain’t Right” employ high-floating vocal lines that echo the indie R&B scene. The very fact that “MATANGI” incorporates so many different styles into its sound and yet still feels coherent is a feat within itself. “MATANGI” feels fresh, familiar and complete all at the same time – something extremely rare in the music industry, and even rarer for a so-called pop album.

On top of all of that, “MATANGI” has M.I.A. still spitting ridiculous lyrics. Who’s going to forget “Truth is like a rotten tooth, you got to spit it out!” and “Bombs go off when I enter the building” from “Bring The Noize” or “If you only live once why we keep doing the same ****?”  from “BOOM (Skit)”? And of course, “Live fast die young bad girls do it well” along with every other lyric from single “Bad Girls.” Proclamations abound here and you’re invited to shout along.

“MATANGI” is a huge, necessary return to form for M.I.A. It may not have the same world-shaking lyrical relevance or element of surprise that “Arular” and “Kala” boasted, but maybe it doesn’t need to. M.I.A. feels on top of the world here – her music and lyrics scream confidence, and it’s just so fun to be part of her world.

Contact John Darr at jdarr@nd.edu