M.I.A.’s albums have always served as her political soapboxes. Her latest—and purportedly last—AIM, is no different. M.I.A. has also been vocal about being a refugee for some three decades, as a persecuted Tamil from Sri Lanka living in the United Kingdom—a status that is particularly topical on AIM.
For those glued to M.I.A.’s provocative Twitter feed, this is the same album that was previously named Matahdatah. It is also the album on which last year’s enticing “Borders” and the inventive “Swords” appear, the latter only on the deluxe version. M.I.A. has Skrillex, Blaqstarr, and even Zayn Malik (yes, as in formerly of One Direction) on board, yet AIM sounds like a field recording made in the middle of a bustling Sri Lankan market: colorful, flavorful, and most of all, noisy.
These inescapable Eastern vibes prove to be a blessing, uniting an otherwise fragmented album. The snake-charming melodies wind through AIM’s entirety, sounding surprisingly fitting with the bottom-heavy Skrillex beats on “Go Off,” but not as well on his other collaboration, “A.M.P. (All My People),” where they become wholly irritating. This irritability carries into “Bird Song” (the much-talked-about Diplo remix is on the deluxe version), with its stuttering kazoo-like noises, which are as invasive as a neighbor’s pet that won’t shut up. And having M.I.A. say she’s “cuckoo for you” in a track titled “Bird Song” is a little cheap for her lyrical abilities. Equally skip-worthy is the stop/start “Jump In” and repetitive “Fly Pirate.”
M.I.A. always speaks the language of the time, albeit in her own dialect, twisting street vernacular to embed her messages. There are moments when she smooths things out enough to almost be comprehensible, such as on “Freedun” (featuring Zayn) or on “Foreign Friend” (featuring Dexta Daps). Both songs owe much of their conventionality to the guest vocalists rather than M.I.A. herself. Possibly the most user-friendly M.I.A. becomes is on “Finally,” produced by her Buraka Som Sistema cohort Branko. Here her words are straightforward, if predictable. Similarly, the traditional drums on “Visa” are a saving grace for the vibrant track that samples M.I.A.’s own timeless song, “Galang.” The album ends on a pretty note with “Survivor,” which for all its fluttery rhythms, has just as much of a cautionary missive as the rest of AIM.