M.I.A. Arular

[XL/Beggars; 2005]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: hip-hop, dancehall, reggae, pop
Others: Missy Elliott, Dizzee Rascal, Neneh Cherry

Oh M.I.A., where do I begin? By now almost all of you have heard the name (hell, she was in my sister's Teen Vogue) and heard her story recounted ad nauseam. You've heard about how she moved from Sri Lanka to India due to the Tamil rebellion (that her father was a prominent figure of) and how she moved back to Sri Lanka before finally ending up in London to attend Middlesex University and Central Saint Marie's School of Art. You've heard about how one of the best singles of the new millennium, "Galang," was only the second song she ever wrote, and about how hard her sound is to classify. You've heard about all of that because just in the past few months Ms. Maya Arulpragasam has been the recipient of more media attention than most artists receive their entire careers. She's been built up on a foundation largely laid by the burgeoning blog scene, and now it's time to see if more mainstream media will solidify that foundation or tear it to the ground.

Following in the blazing path torn through the music world by Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol.1 comes Mya's debut long player, Arular. To say that this record was "anticipated" is an understatement; in fact, reports state that there was a notable surge in the number of overactive saliva glands that doctors had to treat (my appointment is tomorrow, 3-ish). But it wasn't even just the music that people were holding their breaths for; it was the curiosity of what was going to happen once the record came out. But we'll get to that in a bit. For now, let's focus on the sounds.

And what glorious sounds they are. Arular is filled with banging beats that reverberate in your skull, as well as M.I.A.'s double-dubbed vocals that send your head spinning into a stereo frenzy. When in "Bucky Done Gun," M.I.A. shouts "New York/ quiet down/ I need to make a sound" before the furious horns kick in, she succeeds in making the city that never sleeps shut the fuck up, just so she can do her thing. I can't think of a single person in recent memory who comes off with so much attitude and swagger and is actually believable; like if you don't pay attention she just might smack you across the face. From the English lesson of opener "Ba-na-na" and the day-glo "Sunshowers" to the bombast of "Galang" and the hostage scenario played out in "Amazon," M.I.A. creates one of the most singular artistic statements of the past five years, deftly combing elements of pop, reggae, hip-hop, dancehall, and whatever the fuck else she feels like throwing into a track. The only problem with this album is the difficulty you're going to have explaining what the hell it sounds like to your friends after they hear you raving about it.

It's this combination of styles that may be Arular's downfall. It's still to be seen whether people outside of Criticville and Blogland are ready for such a forward-thinking mishmash of genres and sounds. It'd be nice to think that we might one day see an M.I.A. track sandwiched on the charts between Missy and Outkast, but it's still too early to tell what the final fate of this little slice of brilliance will be. If she never crosses that bridge to pop success though, we'll always have a home for her on this side.

1. Ba-na-na 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
11. Sunshowers
12. Galang
13. MIA (Hidden Track)