M.I.A - Arular

M.I.A's "Arular" is an album from the outset that reminds us of Missy Elliot in her infancy. Born in Hounslow (South London) she moved to Sri Lanka at the age of six months. Maya (M.I.A's birth name) spent much of her time with her mother, her father got involved with Tamil politics and became a known rebel figure by the army so had to constantly move around. After moving to Madras (India) and back to Sri Lanka Maya moved back to London where she studied at Central Saint Martins school of art.

Previous singles "Galang" and "Sunshowers" only hint at the genius of this album. Electro, dancehall, UK garage, ragga are taken in, spat out and given a work-over that could only be from M.I.A borne. The squelchy crunked up "Pull Up The People" starts off as it means to go on, on the face of it simplistic but utterly compelling and intrinsically complex. "U.R.A.Q.T" is MIA's "Get Your Freak On" with so many vocal and lyrical hooks: "You are a cutie. Is your dad a dealer cos you're dope to me?". "Bucky Done Gun", produced by Richard X, has the sort of 808 electro breakdown you can only dream off, but then it's counteracted by a stuttering horn refrain and bashment beats.

Lyrically it's hard to translate. Reference points to her fathers background and violence are littered all over the album, the albums title itself is taken from her fathers nickname "Arular", and part cut and paste phrases she's picked up over the years in her various home cities. Schooled by NWA, Peaches and on this album, producers Richard X and Pulp's Steve Mackey, the musical influences are wide and varied. With each listen you discover new levels and new depths, whether it's simply a subtle backbeat or synth running under the main track. It's clear that these tracks have been built from nothing, had every idea thrown on top and then stripped back to the bare essentials.

While it's hard to imagine this album breaking out from the underground to a mainstream audience it's a reassuringly hook laden album. "Arular" is already the essential album of 2004 and it's doubtful it will be challenged.

Alex McCann

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