Arular and Kala were blinding-daylight records. They sizzled with energy and urbanity—the voices of the children running the streets, the frenzied throngs in market squares, the gathered percussive force of impromptu marching bands. Think about the prismatic Jamaican dance crews in the video for "Boyz," or the dirty streets filled with chickens, urchins and bandana-wearing teens lobbing smoke grenades in the "Bucky Done Gun" video.
Maya is a complete tonal shift, set entirely between the hours of 2 and 5 a.m. It's Maya Arulpragasam's Midnight Marauders, if you will, a third album that references the attitude of the first two, but ultimately shifts perspective. Here, M.I.A. is less of a rabble-rouser, and more of a dance-club diva-cum-punk high priestess. Maya is hypnotic and, mostly, a world of deep purples, slow-pulse strobe lights and spectral intensity.
Its aesthetic relies more on mechanized noise than indigenous groove. The soundscape on "Steppin' Up" is rife with the whistles of falling bombs (natch) and whirring drills. "Teqkilla" is all spiraling klaxon blare and hypnosis. In "Lovalot," democracy is an abattoir set to sputtering rewinds. Fighter jets soar through the intro of "Story to Be Told" before its sci-fi thrum kicks in. "Meds and Feds" is set to clanking machinery and punk guitar riffing.
Fans of M.I.A.'s first two records might be put off, preferring urban bravado to these lonely small hours. Instead, Maya is a lush, dystopian blur.