M.I.A. ///Y/

M.I.A. ///Y/
Much has been going on in Maya Arulpragasam's life since the release of second album Kala. She's finally cleared up those visa problems that kept her out of the U.S., gotten married, delivered a baby the day after that infamous Grammy performance, moved into a big house in a well-to-do Los Angeles neighbourhood and sold hundreds of thousands of records courtesy of the surprise success of "Paper Planes." Not bad for an album critics were raring to hate in the run-up to its release. Her simplistic, vocal politics have always made her an easy target, but once people heard how daring and refreshingly global Kala's beats sounded, the controversial singer managed to win over all the naysayers. Now, critics from The New York Times on down have been looking to cut M.I.A.'s larger-than-life contradictions back down to size once again, and even ex-boyfriend/producer Diplo tweeted about how ///Y/ (a set of symbols that forms her name) is "a turd" of a record. And though it may not be a turd, ///Y/ lacks the sonic cohesion of a Diplo firmly at the helm, as was the case with Arular, or the contemporary global rhythms that resulted in Kala, the product of broad travels forced by Arulpragasam's inability to enter and record in the U.S. Stateside success and a new Los Angeles luxury lifestyle have led to an existential crisis over what to do with all her anti-Americanisms. As a result, ///Y/ is M.I.A's most abrasive, contradictory and thematically vacant outing to date. Its 12 tracks divide themselves between those hunting for a new underground club sound ("Steppin Up" and "Teqkilla"), those hopeful to compete with the Lady Gagas of the pop world ("XXXO"), those looking to redux "Paper Planes" ("Story to be Told," "Tell Me Why" and "Space") and a couple that veer into disaster ("Born Free" and "Meds and Feds"). There are individual songs that do succeed, but as a record that has multiple goals in mind, ///Y/ more often than not fails to get to where it wishes to go. Most of all, ///Y/ falls short of Arular and Kala because M.I.A. believes that her persona and politically alienated stance can hold the same exotic allure without the bedrock of African, East Indian and South American beats that made Arulpragasam's music so unapologetically exciting, rendering her one of the most captivating pop entities. It's a feat she manages only occasionally here, most notably on "It Takes A Muscle" and "It Is What It Is." Otherwise, with muscular nu-electro qualifiers, courtesy of Rusko, and a more palatable meat-and-potatoes approach to sampling, courtesy of Blaqstarr, ///Y/ has the dubious distinction of being M.I.A.'s most American-sounding album to date, forsaking what made M.I.A. so interesting in the first place. (XL)