I’ve liked /\/\/\Y/\ since it was released over the summer. It’s actually my favorite M.I.A. record, the only one I’ve listened to regularly. It’s not the record people expected — but it was the smart record to make. The backlash received its fuel (and plenty of stoking) from Lynn Hirschberg’s infamous, agenda-ridden NYTimes truffle-fry piece, continued via a condescending Pitchfork review, became par-for-the-course. (To be fair, our Premature Evaluation, one I didn’t write or agree with, wasn’t exactly in love with the record.)
Over the summer I mentioned the treatment reminded me of when Liars’ They Were Wrong, So We Drowned was released in 2004. I reviewed They Were Wrong for Playboy.com, of all places, and an editor suggested I reevaluate my positive (4 Bunny Ear) score after the record was trashed by SPIN, Rolling Stone, and got a 6.3 from Pitchfork, etc. Like /\/\/\Y/\, it was an album that signaled a major break from a previous aesthetic and a push toward something quite different — in that case, the rejection of summertime dance-punk for what became the style of Drum’s Not Dead, an album I gave a 9.0 to at P4K, a review in which I made sure to mention those earlier bad scores:
[M]y favorite detail of this feel-good story– popular Brooklyn post-punk band falls out of favor by changing directions and ultimately produces an album that eclipses its debut– is that Liars are still waltzing along on their own terms. This, their third LP, shows zero concessions to the criticisms they received from publications like Spin and Rolling Stone, who awarded They Were Wrong their lowest possible marks. Succeeding rather than regressing or retreating, Liars have had the last laugh: Drum’s Not Dead is a majestic victory lap, and on all levels, a total fucking triumph.
The major difference(s) this time is that Rolling Stone and SPIN liked /\/\/\Y/\; it’s appeared on both of their year-end lists. That, and it’s too early to tell what M.I.A. will do next, and how people will react to it, but a couple of months ago, during a staff hangout, I said we should expect a reevaluation of it sooner than later. A few days later, I started seeing tweets by folks who’d initially trashed the record saying maybe they’d been too hasty. After that, a full-on reevaluation began. I couldn’t convince everyone in these parts, which is why it didn’t make our Top 50 Of 2010 (though it did make my own Top List and Honorable Mention). Our Top 50 was built on votes and math and required more support than I could give it, but I figured I might as well give you a few reasons why the album’s better than you remember. Even if you’re not convinced, it’s a good opportunity to reiterate why it’s important to reevaluate albums beyond snap leak-week assessments.
08 Prescient (and pretty) packaging.
I still don’t get why everyone hated the cover art so much. She may go overboard with the paranoia angle, but she does have a point about the over-connected Internet culture we inhabit.
07 The chainsaw and power drill at the beginning of “Steppin’ Up,” the first proper, post intro thesis song on the album.
They signal the chopping and fractures in the pop collage that follows, sure. The chopping of that over-connectedness, too. They’re also just excellently loud. Diplo tweeted that /\/\/\Y/\ sounded “like skinny puppy,” that it “gives [him] nightmares.” This is because he’s a wimp.
06 Unlike a number of trust-fund indie rockers, the married-to-an-heir Arulpragasam’s not afraid to talk about her wealth.
She’s rich: “I don’t wanna talk about money / ‘Cause I got it,” “You know who I am / I run this fuckin’ club,” etc. So what? In this way and others, /\/\/\Y/\ was one of the most honest albums of the year — she wore her heart on her designer sleeve.
05 Speaking of which … After the success of “Paper Planes,” it was punk as fuck to hand an album like this to a major label.
04 Despite the heavy-handed video, “Born Free” is a great single.
It is also the best Suicide-sampling song to make it to Letterman complete with Martin Rev. (It’s sort of like Thurston Moore playing Harry Pussy on MTV in the ’90s, but to an even bigger audience.)
03 Speaking of using taste wisely:
She recast Dutch synth-pop group Spectral Delay‘s icy, electronic ’82 tune “It Takes A Muscle” as a warm, catchy, underwater pop-reggae tune in the midst of her anti-digital manifesto. (Which reminds me: It’s tiring hearing about how M.I.A.’s the product of all these male producers … Who cares if Switch, Blaqstarr, and Diplo came in, or if she used some Sleigh Bells guitars? On top of the Spectral Delay, another seductive pop gem “Tell Me Why” samples the fucking Alabama Sacred Harp Singers!)
02 For all the “Paper Planes” fans:
Arulpragasam shows you she can make that pop song you wanted via “XXXO” and then take it away with the weirdo “Teqkilla” and onward. (Speaking of weirdo, all the URL purchases and hard-to-reach videos shouldn’t be considered in evaluating the album, but they’re great, too, adding to the overall concept, that the shit reaches all corners. Including her entertaining Q&A‘s.)
01 The biggest reason why /\/\/\Y/\‘s better than you remember?
You read the bad reviews and either approached the record with prejudiced ears or didn’t listen it all. Take another (or first) listen — it’s one of the year’s more memorable releases, one I personally liked more than My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (though that’s a different list entirely).