Exclaim!'s Best of 2013: Top 10 Soul and R&B Albums

7. M.I.A.

An inflamed response to the critics? An inward retreat to focus on spirituality? A pressure relief mechanism, a much-needed release? Whatever the intent, Matangi rises above all the noise that has been encircling the public persona of its creator and namesake, relying instead on the songs. Chock full of cleverly disguised verbal daggers, this collection of dense yet laid back anthems relies less on overt agitprop, instead using subtle metaphors to send pointed messages — a technique often employed within the sacred texts of many of the world's religions.

This mature brand of lyricism demonstrates M.I.A.'s penetrating wit, revealing a crafty songwriter who in the past has been unfairly accused of pastiche. Of course, lyrics without music makes for a dull listen, and fortunately, Matangi delivers in spades. Culling from both popular and under-represented song forms, the album is kaleidoscopic in vision, yet decidedly less brash than previous efforts.

Album opener "Karmageddon" immediately sets the stage with its mesmerizing bass throb and almost non-existing percussion. Electro-banger "Warriors" is one of the more riotous tracks, yet repeatedly drops into a lone harp strum, and "Come Walk With Me" marries a sing-song melody to pummelling beats. Matangi is an acerbic album, rife with infectious earworms that warrant repeat listens. (Bryon Hayes)