M.I.A. – AIM
Released: 9 September 2016
On AIM, we’re treated to M.I.A. swagger mixed in with socio-political awareness and a few other introspective ballads.
The album opens strong with “Borders” and “Go Off“, two of the best songs on the album. However, the momentum is slighted by “Bird Song (Blaqstarr remix)“, which isn’t very enjoyable due to the rhythmic-stunting chops of the abrasive bird sample – I prefer Diplo’s remix in the iTunes bonus tracks. The melodic “Freedun” is another high point on the album, where M.I.A. declares “From the People’s Republic of Swaggastan” before touching on history, refugees, and religion all in the same verse.
“Freedun” hosts one of the best melodies and verses on the album where, in the 2nd verse, M.I.A. floats effortlessly over the light Polow Da Don production. However, the magic of “Freedun” is lost in the track 3-7 stretch, which feels like an un-cohesive splatter of songs that broke any momentum that the album might’ve gained with the first few tracks. It wasn’t until the enigmatic strings on “Ali R U OK?” woke me back up that I snapped back into attention with this album.
One issue that I run into on AIM is the production. M.I.A.’s vocal stylings and accent are unique and I’d like them to be complimented by more ambitious production. M.I.A.’s voice works well over deep drums and heavy, darker production. I nearly cringed when M.I.A. jumped on sweeter, more celestial production like on “Survivor” – her voice coupled with what sounds like autotune is too abrasive for that type of fluffy production. Her vocals are unique and she should use production that matches it like on “Visa“, another one of my favorite songs on the album.
I can imagine M.I.A. flourishing on more uptempo production like that from Sango or Esta from Soulection. Her unique voice and rapping/singing style could wrap well around those instrumentals unlike anyone else has been able to do.
The more unique and left-field the production, the more I can imagine M.I.A. succeeding over it.
Her vocal stylings gives her an edge that few other vocalists have because she can hop over traditional, cultural-inspired music on one track and then jump to more pop sounding songs on the next without sounding uncomfortable.
I really like the Skrillex-assisted track, “Go Off“. I like that M.I.A is reaching further for sounds and producers that she’d sound good with; I can see her shining over more drum-and-bass and/or EDM house beats too. However, she doesn’t need the autotune/voicebox on her verses on “Go Off“. Normally, autotune doesn’t bother me, but coupled with the lighter, airy production on “Go Off” it’s grating almost to the point where it’s distracting. I think M.I.A. would sound good under heavier 808s like on the political track “Borders“, where she sounds comfortable.
All in all, I don’t feel like the album accentuates M.I.A’s unique talents such as her knack for socio-political awareness, twisting slang, and her unique voice. There aren’t many memorable moments on the album and the production, structure, and sequencing might largely be to blame for this. The album also doesn’t sound cohesive despite production being handled mostly by M.I.A. herself and Blaqstarr. M.I.A. still has something to say, but she deserves better production and structure. Who executive produced this?
RATING: Not a bad album but also not as eclectic as we’ve come to expect from M.I.A. As usual, M.I.A. has a lot to say on this album as it pertains to politics and lifestyle, but the project feels like it has no direction. There are a number of good ideas sonically and lyrically but they aren’t strung together well.
Sidenote: The bonus tracks are some of the best songs on the album…”Platforms” is gorgeous, “Talk” is awesome, and Diplo’s “Bird Song remix” sounds better than Blaqstarr’s. I don’t consider bonus tracks in album reviews, but throw those tracks in to fill in some voids during the track 3-7 stretch and we have a whole different album and review.