M.I.A.

Arular (XL)

With Arular, her breakout debut, world refugee Maya Arulpragasam has finally found a home. Born in London, raised in Sri Lanka and India, and finished back in London as an art school student and hip-hop devotee, the 27-year-old Renaissance babe brandishes an intriguing patchwork of urban influences and political awareness. Her father's outlaw status as a Tamil Tiger freedom fighter (or terrorist, depending on whom you ask), fighting for an independent Tamil state in Sri Lanka, has clearly rubbed off on Arular's raucous, revolutionary aesthetic. Like her visual art -- neon-stenciled tanks and tigers, rough cut 'n' paste graffiti -- that flecks the CD insert, Arulpragasam's music is startling, vivid, jagged, and scintillating all at once. Recording under the M.I.A. moniker, she chirps and barks in Tamil, cockney, and American slang, dishing lines like "I'll fight you just to get peace" (from the snarling "Bucky Done Gone") over a fuzzy electro background spiked with a crackling frappe of grime, dancehall, and hip-hop rhythms. Mixtape sensations "Sunshowers" and "Galang" stutter with martial stomp and confrontational rhetoric, closing the album with an eery, alluring kick. Don't worry about alleged cultural piracy here -- M.I.A. is looting street beats from Williamsburg to West End, and it's only a matter of time before she's knocking on your door too.

 
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