Worldwide stardom hasn't softened M.I.A. one iota; if anything, it's made her resolve to be the planet's most provocative pop star that much stronger. Following the all-over-the-map Maya, by comparison Matangi is laser-focused, utilizing harsh industrial noise much in the same way Kanye West's Yeezus did, though she fuses it with a worldbeat touch and heavy EDM nods. Most of all, Matangi succeeds because it sounds like an M.I.A. album, even if it's been digitally chopped up and reassembled more so than previous releases. Her opening tracks come on hard, dropping names of wartorn nations in the title track amid a digital grenade of atonal sounds, while "Warriors" drills with a minimalist hip-hop beat. "Come Walk With Me" starts like a love song, quiet with a reggae sway, before jumping off the rails with a hyperactive dancehall-house beat. Though these tracks touch on her typical subject matter of empowering the global masses, she's also having a great time, rapping like a cocky hip-hop star and subverting the formula. And the second half of Matangi is loaded with ass-shakers. "atention's" twisted beat makes it one of her sickest dance songs since "World Town." The previously released "Bad Girls" makes an appearance in all its bhangra-beat glory, and "Bring the Noize" is the album's instant classic, unleashing a brutal beat that makes most EDM sound like kid's music as M.I.A. pulls off sounding disaffected while spouting rhymes at an impressive tick. Matangi is a welcome comeback after a troubling period for M.I.A., proving her once again to be one of the most forward-thinking pop music entities around.
Purity Ring make Cocteau Twins-style dream pop by way of Salem’s hard-hitting witchhouse on an album more notable for its smooth blending of related genres than for its actual songwriting, but they’ve got a sweet sound nonetheless.
Cold Showers’ short and sweet debut heralds the arrival of a great new L.A. band, beaming shoegaze guitars over darkwave synths and goth-style vocals. (Read my review of Cold Showers' show here.)
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Grimes’ Visions is the rare pop album that feels like you’re traversing through the private mind of its creator. Claire Boucher coos and chirps her way over synth loops and dance beats not unlike your average pop star, only her vocals and song construction are far more mysterious and dreamlike, almost like you’re seeing her thoughts before they’ve fully formed. Boucher rides sweetly over soft electronic seas in songs like “Genesis” and “Oblivion,” while “Eight” is the other side of the coin, with Boucher awesomely screeching over a Knife-style electro jam. Her visions may be strange indeed, but inviting; you won’t be able to get them out of your head.
Sleigh Bells – Reign of Terror
Did you think Sleigh Bells were gonna soften up for their sophomore album? Maybe trim the hair metal guitars and jock jam beats and turn out some slick dance-pop? Hell no! Reign of Terror sounds like the natural progression from 2010’s Treats — guitars that pummel even harder, courtesy of better production; skittering industrial beats; and Alexis Krauss’ awesome voice, which can go from Poly Styrene to Kylie Minogue in a heartbeat. “Comeback Kid” is their rallying cry for this album, with Derek Miller’s twisted arrangement showing increasing deviousness. “Leader of the Pack” could actually blow out your speakers — that’s not an exaggeration. Their “ballads” have grown a pair, too; whereas Treats’ “Rill Rill” got by on casual winsomeness, “End of the Line” is a genuinely emotional breakup song. Reign of Terror won’t necessarily prove naysayers — and there are plenty of them — wrong that their music is ridiculous, but it’s such a badass refinement of their sound that it’s nothing short of swift kick to the groin of anyone in their way.