M.I.A.’s fifth and final album is an unfortunate affair. Comprised of lazy lyrics, half-arsed sampling, and grating production, AIM completely misses the mark. It contains some potentially interesting ideas that are too often driven into the dirt by feeble songwriting, thus ultimately becoming stale .and incredibly tiresome after a short amount of time. Practically every song sounds like a loose sketch that runs out of ideas halfway through. There’s as much a lack of restraint as there is development—beats feel fatigued after a few bars, and tracks are arranged with no sense of control whatsoever. Certain cuts are mixed in such a bizarre and jarring manner that they almost become impossible to fully consume (“Fly Pirate” being a key offender). These crucial setbacks mean it’s almost impossible to care about AIM, which is a shame, because as always, M.I.A. covers important political ground. What’s even stranger is that the record is created by someone who is so frequently in touch with humanitarian concerns, yet produced without any sense of human quality whatsoever. It’s a real clutter of wasted creativity. It does at least sound like MIA wanted to have some fun with the record, in amongst the social demonstrations: ‘I’m a swagger man, rolling in my swagger van/from the people’s republic of swaggerstan’, she begins on “Freedun”, and though it provides some amusement in its sheer absurdity, it’s also a suitable representation of the half-baked nature of the entire album. She may be having fun, but I’m having absolutely no fun listening to it. AIM is a drab farewell.4 10
Favourite tracks // Borders
On a score this low I’d expect to be upset or angry in some undignified way or other, but in this case I’m just deeply unaffected. AIM, ironically, is a mess. Boasting a small army of producers (read: electric sledgehammer wielders) like Dilpo and Skrillex, the album’s character is inelegant and obnoxious, with the creative sparks scattered throughout only serving to highlight what is missing—vision. It’s striking how quickly this becomes apparent. The opener, “Borders”, isn’t a world shaker, but it’s fine start, a catchy, structured, melodic beat that seemingly lays out a stall for the tracks to follow. Nope! If any generalisation can be made about AIM, it’s that it’s splintered. Almost every song comes across like a hodgepodge of undeveloped ideas mixed in a megablender with no lid. Maya Arulpragasam seems to get a kick out of that splattered unruliness, but it isn’t terribly enjoyable, or interesting, or anything really. The almost pathological lack of form and polish would make Kanye West blush. And in spite of all this, Arulpragasam’s core vibe is clearly something uniquely colourful and candid, so it’s a real shame it denies itself the chance to shine. A little discipline would have gone a long way.4 10
Favourite tracks // Borders
I’ve always had a soft spot for M.I.A’s mix of variety, opinion, and experimentation, and it’s continued with more recent releases despite the slightly dulled edge they’ve suffered. Unfortunately, AIM, M.I.A’s self-proclaimed ‘final album,’ feels all the more unfurled. With lead single and opener, “Borders”, leaving me cold next to previous big singles like “Bad Girls” and “Paper Planes” despite the collection of catchy elements throughout, and “Go Off” which follows, largely feeling like a single idea from collaborator Sonny Moore (a.k.a Skrillex) stretched over three minutes, AIM doesn’t provide an impressive opening. There are good ideas to be had though, “Bird Song” is more interesting, with a quirky sample making for a catchy hook and chopped up vocals from M.I.A reminiscent of her earlier output. Unfortunately, the album fluctuates and fragments in style and quality, with many tracks feeling part-formed, kept in maybe to provide a specific moment or reference in the album, but never expanded upon.
There are some highlights. “Foreign Friend”, featuring Dexta Daps, is a halftime echo chamber which creates a nice atmosphere and setting. Directly following it is “Finally”, which ups the pace and mixes in a reggae vibe. Various tracks across the tracklist suffer from little progression, showing their full hand within the first minute and re-brandishing it for the next couple of minutes, driving the bass heavy beat into the listener’s head until the end. The mixing on some tracks also really grates on the ear (“Fly Pirate” being the prime offender), over-compressing sub-heavy beats to the point of drowning out the rest of the music, giving the sensation of momentarily going deaf. Both of these criticisms have caused me to skip large swathes of the album during my later listens and knock my score down. There are some nice ideas to be found on AIM but you’ll have to dig for them. With collaborators Skrillex and Blaqstarr making appearances across the album, it may work for some as a slower dance album, but compared to earlier releases from M.I.A this totally misses the mark, making for a (mostly) inoffensive and unmemorable parting album from a decent artist.
Favourite tracks // Bird Song
A.M.P (All My People)