M.I.A.’s carefully structured ‘AIM’ reaches new high point

Tyler Mead, Senior Staff Reporter

After going missing in action for a few years, M.I.A. is back with a vengeance. Its latest album, “AIM,” takes its uniquely crafted beat, and adds a new level of self-assuredness that shines through in every track. 

Since its smash hit “Paper Planes” in 2007 and its $16.6 million middle finger during the 2012 Super Bowl halftime show, M.I.A. proves time and time again that it’ll do as she pleases. “AIM” is an amalgam of its building career. The tracks conjure images of smoky rooms and a powerful authority figure glaring down through the haze. The swagger and powerful lyrics are the backbone of the album, and listeners get a real sense for the artist.

The beats retain the cultural influence that shaped its 2013 album “Matangi,” but with a less in-your-face aggression to tone down a little of the intensity. The balance this album strikes speaks to M.I.A.’s enormous versatility and talent. 

The first track, “Borders,” released in 2015 with a music video featuring actual refugees, set the tone for this album. It offers strong, catchy beats, with a slightly political edge, but in a way that doesn’t come across as pompous or self-congratulatory – take note Bono. 

One of the biggest standouts on the album is “Bird Song” the Blaqstarr remix. This track takes listeners somewhere. The kazoo-like honking, accompanied by the almost surrealist lyrics about birds, feels like Daffy Duck’s most recent peyote-induced trip through a desert in the best way possible.

Zayn Malik also makes a surprisingly incredible feature in the song “Freedun.” It’s clear that with the help of M.I.A.’s seasoned producers, the “Pillow Talk” singer’s voice can actually be used in a hauntingly beautiful way. His chilling yet sweet vocals balance out one of M.I.A.’s more in-your-face tracks about its own sense of self. 

Tracks like “A.M.P. (All My People)” and “Go Off” are harsher, sound-wise, but still stay strong amidst the more relaxed nature of the album. “Fly Pirate”, on the other hand, sticks out for its repetitive, and at times, monotonous beat. 

The upside to this slight misstep on the album is the otherwise uninterrupted sleekness of the second half of the album that opens with “Finally.” The line “I’m someone’s shot of whisky, not everyone’s tea” encapsulates M.I.A.’s confidence and take-no-shit attitude.

The other standouts for the album’s closers are “Ali R U OK?”, “Visa” and the actual closer, “Survivor.” Each offers a different high point of M.I.A.’s sound. The first offers the clearest sense of cultural heritage in her music, mixed with a story of rebuilding a personal friendship.

“Visa” shows off the artist’s flow, and some of its more fun writing. Undoubtedly, this will be one of the songs to look out for at a live show due to the inherent showmanship in the song.

By closing the album on a note as sweet “Survivor,” M.I.A. not only wraps up its intimate gathering of an album with a soft goodbye, but also draws attention to her melodic voice. The vocals shine, and clarify that its skills as a vocalist are unquestionable.

Overall, M.I.A. created one of its most polished albums to date. With sensible features, some of its best written songs and her level-headed intensity this album demands a listen. 

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