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VINE VOICEon July 17, 2010
In the past, M.I.A. had the luxury of releasing her albums quietly. Her feisty debut, Arular, was quickly devoured by fans of her prior mixtape with Diplo, Piracy Funds Terrorism, and immediately garnered overwhelming critical success... but not much else. Word of mouth caused her sophomore album, Kala, to debut at an impressive number 18 on the Billboard 200, but she still remained a relatively well-kept secret in the music world until one of the album's tracks, "Paper Planes," crept up and became the surprise mega-hit of 2008, while also almost single-handedly winning the album a gold certification from the RIAA.

Suddenly, Maya had gained commercial success to match the critical praise, which I'm sure she found incredibly hard to grapple with; all of a sudden, this outspoken, opinionated, passionate, but ultimately misunderstood artist--who was accustomed to small venues and notoriety strictly limited to the Pitchfork crowd--was being heard and watched by millions. Millions who, quite frankly, don't "get it." Millions who, although they now have a newfound desire to listen to her, don't necessarily want or have the intelligence to truly hear her. During the months leading up to the release of her third effort, her words have been twisted, her jokes have been misconstrued, her political statements have been dismissed as empty threats (or, even worse: publicity stunts), and her lyrics have been robbed of their meaning by the mainstream audiences and media. To quote a track from Arular, it seems this crowd of new fans would rather see her as "fun for the people" than "armed and equal." Even more detrimental, though, was the now infamous profile of the artist for a May issue of the New York Times Magazine, in which the author, Lynn Hirschberg, reduced Maya to a walking contradiction: a silly, hypocritical, and paranoid little Tamil girl who rambles on and on about the injustice of the recently defunct Sri Lankan Civil War that she knows nothing about (even though she lived through part of it and her father abandoned her family in order to become one of the most notable figures of the Tamil struggle, mind you), all while idly munching on truffle French fries, anxiously waiting to return to her son and wealthy fiancé at her million-dollar-plus abode.

Well, on M.I.A.'s third effort, /\/\/\Y/\, the apparently self-contradictory facets of her personality work to her benefit, ultimately creating a widely varied and exciting, yet balanced, listen. It's hard to imagine the thrashing duo of angry, loud, gritty, anarchic, and slightly hard to digest rock-inspired "Born Free" and "Meds And Feds" could be coming from the same woman who on just the track before--the wandering, sing-songy "It Iz What It Iz"--frankly states, "they all got issues, but I got a bit more." The artist herself explains it best on one of the album's highlights, the smolderding and quietly rebellious "Lovalot:" "I really love a lot, but I fight the ones that fight me." This sort of dichotomy between her aggressive, playful, Arular-esque and her more vulnerable, introspective, Kala-esque self is spread throughout. " The reggae-infused "It Takes A Muscle," one of Diplo's only contributions here, is the closest thing to a love song she has ever crafted, while the first four song chunk will satisfy anyone craving the rambunctious, adventurous Maya from her first effort.

"Steppin' Up" is the most impressive track of the bunch, and it immediately stands out as such. How could a song that begins with percussive power tools not? "Teqkilla," with its cheeky, alcohol-referencing lyrics, is also a standout. The closest thing to "Paper Planes" here, in regards to effortless catchiness, is the endearingly naïve and earnest "Tell Me Why." (If any one song from this album becomes a bonafide smash hit single, it'll be this favorite. My other guess would be the ethereal "Space," whose spacey environment is rudely--and brilliantly--interrupted by cluttered rhythms as soon as the listener becomes a bit too comfortable. "XXXO," the first official single, also has some pop appeal.) And two of the bonus tracks, the scatterbrained "Internet Connection" and the soothing, R&B-like "Caps Lock, (along with the awesome lenticular album cover), prove to be highlights and reason enough to choose the deluxe edition over the slightly cheaper standard edition.

The production on this album, handled by M.I.A. and the likes of Rusko, Switch and Blaqstaar, is simpler and more rough-around-the-edges than her past two efforts, and is much more concerned with electronic music, the internet and America, in contrast to the world travels that inspired Maya's previous world music melting pot of an album. This may turn some people off, but it's not necessarily a bad thing. It's not as complex, layered, or textured as Arular or especially Kala, but there are still some extremely intrepid moments here, like the playground of sound Rusko builds at the end of--and throughout--"Teqkilla" and the many interest ways Maya uses auto-tune, not just to enhance her voice, but moreover, to add interesting distortion and nuance., among other aural experiments heard on this record.

To put it simply, /\/\/\Y/\ is not as polished or complex as her two previous classic, five-star albums. So is it a failure in regards to living up to the utter brilliance of her past efforts? I suppose, if you must look at it in this light. But is it a failure in regards to creating a still great, homogenous, and exciting album? Absolutely not.

This will end up being a polarizing album, for sure. Critics like Pitchfork, Entertainment Weekly, and Time Magazine have already indicated that they have no clue what to make of it. But part of me thinks Maya wants it this way. Maybe this will, in one fell swoop, alienate and eradicate all the Lynn Hirschbergs in her fanbase, who don't want to see her progress, challenge herself, or leave the box they've put her in. Let's just hope she doesn't post all of their cell phone numbers on Twitter!
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If an android ever decided to travel the world and make hip-hop music, the result might be something like M.I.A.'s third album, "/\/\ /\ Y /\" (which I'm going to call "MAYA" because it's easier to type!). All that world music gets put on the backburner here -- "MAYA" is M.I.A.'s deliciously odd hip-hop wrapped in a metallic electronic shell, but somehow there are only glimpses of her colorful, eccentric style.

It opens with blurry computerized vocals rambling about iPhones and the web. That segues into electric drills, frantic beats,and M.I.A. sounding like an android dominatrix, "I light up like a genie and I blow up on this song/Aladdin; no kiddin', boy I need a rub... Basslines and cars anything fast/Know who I am, run this f***in' club!"

After that, she launches into the clubbier electropop of "XXXO", which is the sort of fun but fluffy song that they turn into lead singles. The really good stuff happens when that song ends -- hypnotic singsong raps, schizophrenic synth circuses, chilly spacey electronica, gently funky pop, powerful eruptions of booming rap and clattering drums, wild spurts of grinding rock, swipping stretches of slow electronica, and echoing galaxies of poppy rap.

It was actually kind of a sad experience to listen to "MAYA." I started out wildly excited by M.I.A.'s new electronic sound, imagining the wild, weird things she would do with those effects. But as the album played, I kept thinking over and over, "Well... that song was nice. Not great, but nice. Maybe the next one will be the awesome one.... and that song was nice too, but not great..." That pretty much applies to the whole album.

Now don't get me wrong -- M.I.A.'s musical genius shines brightly on some of these songs. "Teqkilla" is pure insane delight, and there are flickers of genius with "It Takes a Muscle" and the booming "Born Free." Her warm voice gets to both rap and sing here ("You could try to find ways to be happier/You might end up somewhere in Ethiopia/You can think big with your idea/You ain't never gonna find utopia!"), sounding alternately innocent and brashly hot-blooded.

But it feels like M.I.A. wasn't entire comfortable with all the keyboards, electronic twiddles and power tools, because in at least half these songs she doesn't really DO anything with what she has. There's an electronic beat, some reverb voice, a few sound effects... and that's it. As a result, songs like "Tell Me Why" and the clubby "It Iz What It Iz" are just typical electropop, and"Story To Be Told" is downright boring.

"MAYA" has brilliant songs here and there, but M.I.A.'s creative hip-hop seems to have taken a back seat on this one -- those flashes of genius are stuck between halfhearted electronica that just needed more musical TLC.
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on July 15, 2010
I really loved her first two albums. Very consistent in style and groove, with lots of influences wrapped up in a coherent idea. This new album is all over the place, but still interested me. "Born Free" had me hyped since I first heard it all over the net. A;png with that wild violent video. It was so punk and epic. The rest of the album is nothing like that track but I find the whole lot fitting as a whole. I think you have to to be into lots of different styles to like this album. Plus into M.I.A. altogether. The lyrics are very very good. Her British accent drives me crazy. And AutoTune works on some of these tracks better than I've ever heard.

Tracks:

The Message - Makes sense.
Steppin Up - Industrial club anthem?
XXXO - Stands up against any modern pop song around
Teqkilla - Really pumped up electro pop, Nothing like it
Lovalot - Good lyrics, ok artsy groove
Story To Be Told - eerie and worldly
It Takes a Muscle - Feel good song
It Iz What It Iz - Interesting melody but distant
Born Free - Bad ass
Meds and Feds - Harsh but good if you can stand it (headache probable)
Tell Me Why - Beautiful and epic (relief from the last track)
Space - Chill and sweet
Caps Lock - Skipped
Believer - Too mono-tone and repetitive
Internet Connection - Just cool and funky (I thought of Tom Waits)
Illygirl - Strange last track, very B-side and not good

That's enough to justify the album, every song is completely different. You can't say that with most stuff out there.

Only gripe is that these songs seem to be very hard to match live as far as I've seen online. I would see her show anytime though.
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on July 28, 2010
This album has created a couple "first-times" for me. First hip-hop CD I've purchased in the new decade, first M.I.A record, first time writing a review on Amazon.

After hearing "Born Free" and "Steppin' Up" a several months ago, I thought I knew what to expect from M.IA's third release. I must admit I was very much drawn to it's sound from the start. The way one is drawn by a colorful bird or a flower growing out of the pavement. What I got was something completely even more special. The songs are as different from one another and could be. There is only one constant: each song is incredible.

The album moves quickly and keeps you captivated all the way through. One of the most important aspects of this album is that it is so very different than what you hear in hip-hop music today. There's Rihanna and Lady Gaga and their 500+ knock-offs. I guess the logic is don't fix it if it ain't broken.

This album does for hip-hop what Crass did for punk. For the genre (and M.I.A), MAYA has the potential to be either one of the most iconic hip-hop records of it's time or it could be one of the genres greatest hidden gems. My respect goes out to Maya for choosing to move forward, rather than repackage the same album we've been hearing for years now.
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on July 13, 2010
Relying mostly on abrasive lo-fi sounds inspired by 70's industrial groups, "/\/\/\Y/\" sounds like M.I.A. is reacting against her own newly acquired fame, and has unleashed an effort to shed the fans she has recently picked up from "Paper Planes." Willfully and almost uniformly noisy, plenty of M.I.A. fans--even longtime ones--will be disappointed with this sonic template.

Admittedly, my initial reaction to the album was that I felt underwhelmed. I was expecting a progression from the fusion experiments of "Kala", or perhaps a respectable claim to a wider audience, and so when I heard "/\/\/\Y/\", it seemed to me that our favorite Tamil provocateur just wasn't trying that hard.

Which is probably not true. This is just coming from a different moment in M.I.A.'s life. A time of isolation, of confusion, of conflicted feelings. It shouldn't be a surprise, then, that her new album is more insular and homogeneous than the ones she made hopping around the world looking for collaborators. Some people might say it's all a bit one-note, but someone like me can say it works well as a mood piece, albeit one that sounds great at high volumes.

This album doesn't excite me as much as "Kala," but I still like the direction she's gone. It's not as ambitious, not as diverse, and not as energetic as her past work, but it still has plenty of good tunes, which are enjoyably rough in production.

To everyone, definitely listen to the song samples before you buy it. They'll give you a very good idea of what you're getting into. If you don't like noise or lo-fi production, don't even bother.

To the older M.I.A. fans, I say give this one a chance. It's an album I think a lot of people will dismiss immediately, but then grow to like it as time passes. Even if it's not as good as her other albums, it's worth checking out.
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on June 16, 2013
People don't like this album. Those people are uneducated slobs of course, so it really doesn't matter. This is pretty much her best album for me, my favorite of hers. There's not really a bad track, it's very inventive. People don't want to give it a chance because they're really used to hearing commercial music/alternative indie emo music without balls. If it's not folky acoustic stuff a la Arcade Fire people don't like or listen to it anymore. A lot of people hate MIA because they think it's hipster music, however it's music with a mind and a bit of heart so that's about as far as you can get from the androgyny of hipster music. It's a very rock-y album rather than a world music album which threw a lot of people off who were wh$res for the world music thing because it made them feel like they were special and they cared about world issues while they listened to it. MIA continues to evolve as an artist and this is an excellent album. She was however terrible for some reason or another on the Jools Holland show, and stealing Ghost Rider from Suicide and calling it your song is plagiarism and about as far as you can get from artistry. Yet on the album her 'Born Free' song works just fine, which is a head-scratcher, yet more testament to the awesomeness of MIA.

I've been an MIA fan from the beginning, perhaps I understand her creative jibe better than others. When Rolling stone gave this album a FIVE STAR review, and after I heard it for the first time, to myself I said, "Yah, right on, perfectly correct." It was discouraging to see the music press as well at P4K and RYM get it really wrong. They all pretty much folded like a house of cards in the face of the awesomeness of this great album. MAYA is certainly one I'll remember, unlike her first album which was a bit weak sauce. I thought Arular was great for its variance, but a bit uneven. Maya is pretty much her strongest effort. Sad to see an artist actually release a real bona fide masterpiece and everyone turn tail and run at once. They were too busy j$rking themselves over Joanna Newsom and LCD Soundsystem, of which LCD is perhaps the most overrated act I've heard in years. Don't get me wrong, LCD's got some really cool songs, but they're much more a workman band than a talented creative force. New Yorkers, of course love it when bands make songs about their lifestyle and love to squeeze out turds on British acts who undercut NY coolness. MIA's biggest sin is being different and English.

The sound effects on the album are mostly what people thought were obnoxious and ruined the album for them. I thought the sound effects were hardly noticeable but as effects, with the music making the most prominent impact. MIA is so boss, she scared a bunch of little immature kids with the sound of drills and what sounds like a carpentry workshop, they just couldn't get it and couldn't believe it. HAHAHA.

Steppin' Up is BOSS. You're not going to hear an American act drop ultimate coolness/rocknroll like that anywhere. Bow to the Queen. XXXO was just an excellent song and a wondrous single, yet it never caught on because NOT HIPSTER ENOUGH RRRGGGHHH. Tequila is a funny song, TOO MANNNYY EFFECTS RRRGGHH >x(
haha, this album's so musical, so good, something the hipsters will never get and ##### themselves by not embracing, I might just start listening to this album YET AGAIN, ha, it's so good.
I think dumb Americans no like this album because it uses all their tricks and beats them up with 'em. All the studio trickery that bad hip hoppers borrow and never own, walking up all on their faces, makes them SOOOO MAAADDDD.. RRRRGGHHH >x( BEAT ME TO THE PUUNNCH!!! RRRGHGGHHH!
tons of great atmosphere, wonderful production...It Takes A Muscle is a great song, fantastic beat, good message. AMERICANS #### #### #### #### #### #### #### #### #### JOHN LENNON ##### #### #### #### [SENTENCE CENSORED FOR EXTREME CONTENT]
BORN---FREE----@@@@@
MEDS--AND---FEDS---@@@@@ SO ROCK N ROLL!!!!
all the stuff MIA uses is already in ads from corporations that we as Americans get barraged with everyday in our lives, yet you get an album that uses it to make beautiful music and suddenly--BOOM!--I now have a HUGE problem with you stuffing it in my face how wrecked my country is with noise and ads!!! AAAAGGGHHH!!!

Tracks 1-12 equals masterpiece. One of the few masterpieces to come out of music in the last five years and it was utterly ignored by the whole of the music press (besides RS, pulling a Homey--you--chill award from me for their brave opinion). This is what our music sounds like now, it's all loudness war extraneous effects, bad r&b flashbacks, completely soulless, and this MIA album captures all that's wrong with our culture, our celebrity party obsession, makes a beautiful album out of the American corporate noise, and people couldn't handle it. And for that: LIVE IN SHAME, YOU MANGY CURS!
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on August 28, 2013
This is hands down M.I.As best cd yet. I have the 2 cds before this too, which are great, but this is like a different side of her, kinda harder, yet has slower songs too that are well worth listening to. Love this
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VINE VOICEon August 5, 2010
With her first two albums, "Arular" and "Kala", MIA became a critically acclaimed artist whose multi-cultural, politically charged music was loved and well respected by fans, but still flying under the mainstream radar. All that changed when "Paper Planes" became a surprising mainstream hit, and MIA was well on her way to becoming a bona fide pop star.

And so the backlash began ... a notorious New York Times article depicted her as a phony and a hypocrite, Perez Hilton began taunting her, and her new album, "MAYA", has received mixed reviews.

"MAYA" is not MIA's best work. Neither is it a disaster. What it is is a confusing, difficult portrait of an artist who is declaring her independence. MIA clearly has no interest in being a pop star or a commodity, and with the exception of maybe "XXXO" there is not one single radio-friendly song on this album. The songs are gritty, often noisy, often angry, and rarely catchy.

Sonically, the world music influences seem to be all but absent on "MAYA", and the sound is a mixture of hard electronica, hip-hop, and heavy metal. MIA seems to be struggling: struggling to find a new sound, struggling to please both herself and her fans, struggling to reconcile her newfound fame and mainstream success with her roots as an outsider and revolutionary.

The album has been criticized for being incoherent and noisy. There's some truth in that. But even her harshest critics couldn't accuse MIA of selling out. She's still speaking her truth, whether people want to hear it or not. And that's what makes her an artist who I think will remain vital for a very long time.
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VINE VOICEon August 5, 2010
With her first two albums, "Arular" and "Kala", MIA became a critically acclaimed artist whose multi-cultural, politically charged music was loved and well respected by fans, but still flying under the mainstream radar. All that changed when "Paper Planes" became a surprising mainstream hit, and MIA was well on her way to becoming a bona fide pop star.

And so the backlash began ... a notorious New York Times article depicted her as a phony and a hypocrite, Perez Hilton began taunting her, and her new album, "MAYA", has received mixed reviews.

"MAYA" is not MIA's best work. Neither is it a disaster. What it is is a confusing, difficult portrait of an artist who is declaring her independence. MIA clearly has no interest in being a pop star or a commodity, and with the exception of maybe "XXXO" there is not one single radio-friendly song on this album. The songs are gritty, often noisy, often angry, and rarely catchy.

Sonically, the world music influences seem to be all but absent on "MAYA", and the sound is a mixture of hard electronica, hip-hop, and heavy metal. MIA seems to be struggling: struggling to find a new sound, struggling to please both herself and her fans, struggling to reconcile her newfound fame and mainstream success with her roots as an outsider and revolutionary.

The album has been criticized for being incoherent and noisy. There's some truth in that. But even her harshest critics couldn't accuse MIA of selling out. She's still speaking her truth, whether people want to hear it or not. And that's what makes her an artist who I think will remain vital for a very long time.
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on July 18, 2010
M.I.A returns with more of her abrasive Pop sound on her third album "Maya". Lots of the album sounds like odd crashes and clangs cut and pasted, "Teqkilla" (with a slight Banghra feel) or the Spartan "Lovalot" (on which she declares "I won't turn my cheek like I'm Ghandi/ I fight the ones that fight me.") for example, showing that motherhood and impending marriage have in no way mellowed her.

"XXXO" is one of the readily accessible songs, an upbeat catchy Techno-tinged synth-Dance number easy on the ear and unlike anything else on the album. Likewise, the catchy "It takes a muscle" is sublime Reggae with deep bass (actually a cover of a track by Dutch group Spectral Display), while "It iz what it iz" is a snaky laid-back groove as is the similar "Tell me why" (which samples the Alabama Sacred Harp Singers).

The industrial sounding "Born free" is fiery Punk sampling "Ghost rider" by Suicide, and similar is the Rocky "Meds and Feds" with gritty guitars. Dreamy and ethereal is "Space", as is the similar "Caps lock", the closest things to ballads, while the echoey "Believer" features Blaqstarr.

A few songs are rather jarring and difficult to digest ("Meds and Feds" for example), but when she's good, she truly shines.
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