In a recent docu-style short produced by Indian impresario Pablo Ganguli, M.I.A. laments what she sees as the death of privacy and autonomy that’s come about as a result of a ubiquitous digital world.
“To exist for say 10 years on this planet without needing to put yourself out there takes so much willpower,” she says.
A sentiment altogether unsurprising for a musician whose experiences with refugeedom, poverty, and political strife are stamped all over her music. For someone entrenched in electronic music, M.I.A. has always had a contentious relationship with technology too. The Sri Lankan-English MC’s latest and purportedly final album AIM sees her continuing to explore these themes but with a more subdued kind of energy.
Upon first listen, AIM sounds like a ball of jelly failing to congeal; sounds from song to song collide rather than coalesce, and cohesion never emerges. There are moments of brilliance like in the wooden delivery of “Ali r u ok?” and the clangor of “All My People,” but in all, the album seems coated in a thinly-veiled sense of indifference. Perhaps, it’s the inevitable shadow that her past work casts over anything M.I.A does, from her electrifying debut single “Galang” to the explosive masterpiece she released three years ago (i.e. Matangi). Compared to the past, AIM feels vestigial, not essential.
But, a more optimistic listener will notice a sumptuous undercurrent throughout the album, especially on the dreamy Zayn-assisted number “Freedun.” “Go Off” sparkles with a similar spirit. Lyrically, AIM runs the gamut. “Borders” and “Visa” feel the most timely, addressing the growing anti-immigrant attitudes in Europe and the United States. These moments, where politics and sonic pleasure commingle, are what’s most delightful about the music. Then, there’s the incessant “Bird Song” with its kazoo loop and bird puns. Bird puns on “Bird Song.”
M.I.A. has always been most adept at ripping apart beats and rebuilding them to fit her vision. AIM follows in that tradition, but it doesn’t sound or feel like a proper send-off for an artist as inventive and essential to pop music. This final work feels, above all, like an artist exhausted.
In that video interview with Ganguli, she goes on to say that she thinks future generations will crave the privacy we’re seemingly in danger of losing today. AIM, in all its cryptic and colorful fragmentation, feels like a concession to that sentiment.