Release Date: 2010.07.28

Let’s all be frank, right here, right now. “PAST < FUTURE” was an epic comeback studio album, fresh in the best possible way, and honestly the best J-Diva album of 2009. Disagree all you want, it was all kinds of epic. So naturally, old and new fans alike (including myself) were anticipating the next great release from Namie Amuro. Apparently she likes touring too much to work on music 24/7, and I suppose this was an obligatory single release. But “Break It / Get Myself Back” is a return to original sin, so to speak.

Why? Well, “Break It” sounds somewhat like a demo from her last album. At first I hated it, but I grew to like it quite a bit. It’s not exactly killer single material that I’d look for in Amuro, considering her last single was the best thing she’s ever done, but it gets the job done. It focuses more on a pop approach, slightly abandoning the “future” flavor she used before in favor of a marching band-esque bass beat and Indian guitar riffs. It could be just me, but Amuro’s voice is this song’s biggest downfall. She has a “pretty” voice, so she doesn’t necessarily fit the hot club stomper composition unless she sings in a lower tone or if her voice is digitally touched up. It’s pretty anthemic though. “Break break break it all, show show show your soul!

While “Break It” misses it’s target by a hair, “Get Myself Back” is on the right path for Amuro. True to the song’s title, Amuro is very reminiscent of her eras before the success of her compilation, “BEST FICTION“, taking on both an R&B and ballad hybrid style. It’s uplifting style is a vast improvement from her previous ballads, and there’s even a synth beat underneath the piano, making this a better version of “MY LOVE“.

Not quite as amazing as I expected, but hey – it gets the job done, and it’s better than her avex peers as of late anyway. Noticing both the more organic sounds in this single and the eeriely hidden message-like titles, I’m suspecting Namie’s next studio album will be a return to her “Hip-Pop” days. But we’ll see.

★★★★☆☆

Release Date: 2010.07.28

Life sure has been rough for Miss Maki Goto. In addition to being under the scrutinizing public eye of the Japanese media, her mother committed suicide and it’s quite possible that her record company is using this as a sympathy case to sell more records. After all, all Maki seems to do in her performances is cry whenever she sings a ballad. It’s a sad story to tell, but in any case, it has seemed to do nothing but make her stronger, as evident in her debut avex release, “ONE” (and they all said, “FINALLY!“). So stronger, in fact, that when stacked-up against the Westernized mainstream dance-pop of previous project SWEET BLACK, it’s quite evident that this is Maki’s trump card. Not only are all five tracks extremely high quality pop releases, there’s no annoying fat rappers thrown in and she actually seems to have matured. And when you’re working with Shinichi Osawa and you chose the theme, “70s revival”, I guess you have to.

Listening to “宝石” (Houseki) is liking taking a walk on a sunny day after a storm, a rainbow popping out of the sky and the ground wet, but not flooded. The minimal electronic touches added to the adult contemporary feel of the song could easily draw comparisons to artists like Toki Asako (I even got an Owl City vibe ocasionally), but being produced by electronic mastermind Osawa, similar to Eri Nobuchika in her heyday, Maki makes this song all her own. The other electronic track in the release, “言えないけど” (Ienai Kedo) manages to sound eerily similar to late 70s dance hits, despite the updated production. Or it could be the idol-feel.

Surprisingly, a few of the songs on this record actually still carry out the slight idol-ish feel of her Hello! Project releases. The most notable of these being “EYES“, a fun dance idol-pop track that, upon closer inspection, is much better than it initially seems. It has one of the best synth riffs ever, jfc. “わがまま” seems like a fun hitomi cover, or something along the lines of Sheryl Crow or some other American pop-rocker. It’s the least memorable but it’s still a good track. The obligatory Maki ballad, “華詩 -hanauta-” is really beautiful. An epic ballade that someone like Ayumi Hamasaki or the like wishes she could make. The chorus hits and BAM! you’re transported into a wonderful world of sadness and beauty. Makes me tear up quite a bit.

Not only is this my favorite Maki release, this is a pretty damn good mini-album altogether. Although it’s not completely perfect, it’s quite close to that level. It’s a shame we waited so long for only five songs though. It’s quite shocking how much I underestimated her.

See you when “TWO” drops, eh, Maki?

★★★★★½

Normally, I steer clear of the mass manufacturing evil that is Johnny’s Entertainment, as all they seem to do is churn out crap boybands that end up destroying every other artists’ sales whenever they release an album or single. I will go on the record as saying I’ve only heard of few of these JE songs, but I’ve always concluded that they are crap. Well, I guess I’ve been proven wrong by music once again, because on a whim, I listened to NEWS frontman Yamashita Tomohisa’s newest solo single, “One in a million”, and I’m surprised by how much I enjoy it.

The eponymous title song is a Eurotrance-inspired groove and I’m unashamedly in love with it. Maybe it’s the autotune covering up his voice, maybe it’s the heavily Westernized sound that reminds me of mainstream K-Pop. Who knows? This song is pretty hot though, with a DENPA-sounding riff throughout the epic chorus. Whatever the reason, “One in a million” = instant love. Some might dismiss it as another recycled pop song, but something about it…I don’t know. I’ll be repeating this for a while. I’m instantly thrown on guard by the first b-side though. “Kuchizuke Adios” (口づけでアディオス) is much more typical idol fare, with some tacky brass and faux-H!P flavor to it. I want to say “Ick”, but…this guy has a pretty voice. I don’t like this song in general, though.

Yay! More K-Pop soundalikes! Just kidding~ “My Dear” is more mid-tempo and is more of a ballad-ish track with an uptempo chorus. Honestly, I was thinking GIRL NEXT DOOR done right the entire time. And there was no annoying CHISA present! Bonus points awarded right here. “World is yours” is a nice acoustic song that reminds me of someone like YUI or even a guitar-ified version of sexy man Ken Hirai. The last b-side to the single (or should I say mini-album at this point?), “Flavor Flavor For You” is more along the lines of something Hirai would do, but I’m also reminded a lot of  some R&B vocalists I can’t quite put my finger on.

If this is what the majority of JE sounds like, I may have missed my missing link to more Japanese male vocalists I need in my library. I hope so, at the least.

Plus, he’s freaking hot. Can I get a “UNF!”?

★★★★★☆

I’ve never been a great fan of Christina Aguilera. She’s never had enough charisma (in my eyes, anyway) to stand out. Sure, I had heard her radio hits like “Beautiful” and her collaborations like “Lady Marmalade” (who hasn’t?), and the most I actually knew about her was that she had a powerful voice. But as stars like Britney Spears show, talent can only take you so far in the business. I guess it didn’t help that she had a child and settled for a bit, but before “Bionic” came out, her relevance was some to nil as far as I was concerned. And even though she’s obviously influenced by many of her more successful peers for this album, she’s added a twist to her latest studio release that would otherwise be absent released by someone else. In other words, one way she’s a clever mimic and another way, she’s an underrated pop mastermind. Either way, the results of her labor are not perfect by any means.

As if she’s shopping, Christina here tries on so many different styles, from dubstep to hip-hop to ambient to even something resembling experimental (all with a pop layer on top), but returns them again and again. Harsh as it sounds, Christina must have been desperate to stay relevant. “Not Myself Tonight” is not reminding of Lady GaGa but it’s easy to see how people come to that conclusion. “Woohoo” features rap “it” girl Nicki Minaj but doesn’t do that well in terms of execution. “Elastic Love” glimmers ambitiously and is probably the best upbeat number out of the bunch but it still comes across as an M.I.A. rip-off (ignoring the fact the Maya Arulpragasm helped write the song). In fact, the first half of the album is nothing but songs that could have been, or put another way, are too try-hard. They’re enjoyable, but the simple fact that they don’t fit Aguilera at all could be the reason for their downfall. She tries to hush her power pipes through reverb and stutter, but comes across as stumbling and self-indulged. She downplays things with the sensual moans of “Sex For Breakfast” but sounds too much like Janet or Mariah.

Giddyup, horsey.

As a result, Christina doesn’t really shine unless she’s sticking to her tried-and-true formula of hearfelt ballad material. “Lift Me Up” is a true stand-out track simply because it shows what she’s good at, and “You Lost Me“, my favorite ballad from the picks chosen, is a new style but one Christina could utilize in the future, with an epic, movie-like atmosphere and slight jazzy dissonance. “I Am” and especially it’s “Stripped” version are highlights as well.

As she returns to her upbeat nature nearing the end of the album, she finds her niche better. “I Hate Boys” is like an angry reimagining of “Lady Marmalade“. “My Girls (feat. Peaches)” is a club number but Peaches totally steals the show here (did I mention that at her MTV Movie Awards performance, Christina stole Peaches’ light-up vagina? No? Well now you know). “Vanity“, the normal edition closer, is an embarassing but highly entertaining dance-pop track that, while showing just how much of a stuck-up bitch Xtina is, also plays on that stereotyped image of herself in a humorous way that in turn makes it somewhat admirable. “Everytime I look at me, I turn myself on / and now I take myself to be, my lawfully wedded bitch”. Priceless.

For some reason, she had the need to stick better songs than the album tracks on the normal edition on the deluxe edition, such as “Monday Morning“, a retro-chic synth ride that seems influenced by European pop. “Bobblehead“, an annoying but addictive Gwen Stefani-inspired romp, sings about dumb bitches and features some sleek production. “Birds of Prey” reminded me of a Zombie song for some reason, but anyway, is an ambient, dark track that made me, for a second, think I was listening to someone completely different. IAMX-inspired, even. “Little Dreamer“, an iTunes-only bonus track (WHY?) deserves an honorable mention as an amazing, melodic collaboration with Ladytron that needs more love.

Christina’s mixed-bag album deserves one listen-though from anyone. Not great through and through, it has it’s memorable moments, and everyone will find something here to enjoy.

It’s nice that you were brave enough to draw genres out of a hat and throw them onto this, because the cohesiveness of this album is nonexistent. But honestly, go back to “Back to Basics“-type music. Or “Stripped“. Yeah.

★★★☆☆☆

Release Date: 2010.07.21

Honestly, I think 80% of anything Korean singer BoA sings for Japan is, or will end up to be, crap. I mean really, she’s 23 going on 24, and she still wants to act overtly cute and release bubblegum pop. Well, good for her, but there are only a select few J-Pop singers that actually pull this off past H!P-potency, and she hasn’t released anything interesting in that area in quite some time. But while the majority is laughable at best, ocasionally, she makes some truly shiny gems, or in the case of new single, “WOO WEEKEND“, a diamond that’s not polished properly.

WOO WEEKEND” is actually a pretty good tune. It carries a late 80s/early 90s air about it, with retro synths scattered throughout atop a muffled guitar that throwback Prince and channel old-school influence – present is a acapella sample accenting the song’s title (“WOO WEEEEEEEEE!“). It is indeed a charming bubblegum song, and while it seems to stick to BoA like an old shoe that’s a little too tight (her stronger area of expertise lies in R&B roots), she certainly pulls off the fun, funky, fresh summer-ready anthem like she was born for it. The b-side, “NO DANCE, NO LIFE“, also throwbacks to the old dance-pop of the MTV era with a hot Jackson-inspired groove that seems a little monotonous but is also highly addictive. If “WOO WEEKEND” is the daytime jam, this is the downtown nightclub groove.

I secretly enjoy many of BoA’s releases, but this really caught my attention. At first I ignored it but once I learned to appreciate how well-crafted and clever this single is, I never looked back. I’ll just be looking forward to BoA’s Korean comeback for something even hotter (a guaranteed).

★★★★★☆

Release Date: 2010.07.14

Re; Futurist Manifesto.

What? Upon first glance, this is not only the most random title I’ve ever heard for an album, it’s also an intriguing one. I mean, title promo track, “Goody Goody” (グッディグッディ) rings like a classy update answer to the massive outpour of lo-fi Terukado coffee shop productions and Nakata…stuff…, but it hardly rings like a truly futuristic track. Maybe a near future, at best, but nothing ground-shattering to the point of screaming at the top of your lungs. There’s a nice synth thing going on, some guitar added for a poppy flavor. The introductory, “Futurhythm” is a bit better in this aspect but it’s not enough. This isn’t manifesting itself in a way I love. Maybe it is in a different way, I would guess.

The original “Futurist Manifesto” was an early 20th century collection of so-called “avant-garde” principles that sparked the futurism movement in the world, essentially rejecting objects of the past and instead focusing on the speedy ahead, embracing technology, innovation, and modernization. It was both a sad demise the world behind and a joyous, if a bit big-headed, welcome to the world next. So basically, this is Sweet Vacation’s answer to the world ahead. How creative!

No really, I like it. It’s a nice approach and explanation behind the new songs presented, such as the amazing instrumental jazzy and super smooth “re-boot“, which should seriously win a Grammy in any way possible, taking Daft Punk influence to a new level and making it something new altogether. It certainly adds the spice here, because for the most part, “Re;Miraiha Sengen” (Re;未来派宣言) is so ambitious in it’s admirable attempt to beef up the the Daichi and May duo, that it falls slightly flat. That’s not to say there’s anything bad here, but the worst thing I found about this album is that they’re just clean-cut techno-pop and shibuya-kei tracks. No strings attached. I don’t know. It’s weird for me. It feels like this album has no soul. I mean, yeah, it’s an electro album, most won’t. But still…I’m not getting much feeling from it. May still sounds emotional though, from batshit hyper in “TOKYO DAYS” to quiet and sleepy. So maybe I’m just getting artificial readings here.

But that aside, this is a crafty piece of handiwork! This album is certainly their most cohesive effort to date. “Love Camera” (ラブカメラ ~セカイが恋するメッセージ~) is a housey, Japanese pop from the 80s-inspired funhouse, with peppiness galore. Songs like this along with the funky applause-rounding “Tic tac“, are beach and radio-ready as hell as can be, when it comes to J-tek. So at least it’s comforting to know the group has stayed true to their roots; the themes of their songs being “sweet” and “vacation”. “heaven’s discotheque” provides a satisfying, well-rounded end to a good album. As outro “Love Camera retweet” slows down from the rest of the album, maybe the concept behind this collective has ironically beat itself, as the past came back and stopped everything after all.

This isn’t incredibly perfect, but it’s a wonderful step in the right direction for this group, who has finally garnered my full attention for the first time. More please.

★★★★★☆

Release Date: 2010.07.07

Too many Japanese albums these days do not have the right amount of variety to keep me remotely interested. And when they do, they usually turn out to be too chaotic, thus turning me off and unintentionally becoming a hot mess. And while those certain artists who stick to one extreme on that spectrum will remain unnamed for the time being, I still had a hell of a time finding new albums that provide enough creativity for that godly balance. However, my search has come to an abrupt end as I have found the album that should tide me over for quite sometime. Need some spicing-up in your musical love life? Look no further than true artist SAWA’s debut album, “Welcome to Sa-World“. I had known about SAWA since her last mini-album, “Ai ni Iku yo“, but nothing had interested me hardcore until now.

Every song, from the lounge-turned-disco glam electro of pumping opening “MerryGoRound” to the subdued ending, “Dream about…“, has something new to offer any listener. Don’t like Japanese? Have no yearn to listen to urban pop? Even the downright nasal quality of SAWA’s voice has a charm to it that can appeal to someone. Don’t believe me? As

Need a map to SAWA's brain? Let this guide you.

much a dance, pop-spastic album as it is philosophical, “Welcome to Sa-World” is literally a look into the thought process and creative inner workings of SAWA’s mind, both an extremely interesting concept for an album and a thorough, non half-assed explanation for the styles presented. There’s a cute little “Opening Ceremony” that introduces the person SAWA, the “Chocolate Zone” is the emotions of her brain, the “Danger Zone“, as noted in the title, is the cautionary, “crazy” side to SAWA. And last but not least, the “Live in Sa-World” corner of her mind is her bubbly optimism come to fruition. It’s not necessary to understand the thinking behind this somewhat bizarre backstory, but it works and certainly makes the rollercoaster ride into Sa-World much more enjoyable.

In fact, since every song on this album (with the possible, subjective exception of “Dream about…“) sounds like extremely superb single material, you may forget that you’re listening to a debut album, and instead find yourself hearing a best-of. At the very least, this is one of the more creative mainstream (-ish) pop albums of 2010. “Planet-T” is the knockout electronic track I’ve heard in a while. Uptempo synths and wild energies equal pure bliss on my growing favorite right here. “NightBus” is a cheerful 90s house-inspired Madonna throwback, with a rushing, traveling feel that fits the album perfectly. A lyric-writing siren hums to herself as the album transcends into a big OMFG! moment with the hallmark golden child of the album, “Throw him away!“, which is short, substantial, and a shibuya-kei modern piece. The verses, the chorus, everything is such a nostalgic trigger for me as a listener of early capsule, Kahimi Karie, and Pizzicato Five, among others. SAWA also shows her influences greatly, but instead of having them overcome her, she adds her own special twist to each track, making each more memorable with the last. She even travels into early Nintendo world with “I’m a president“. You have to love her for that, at least. “Swimming Dancing” is actually accentuated by the album, and “Friday Night” as the reprieve couldn’t have been a better choice. She puts these J-R&B hoes to shame, and if she ever decided to make a full R&B album, I would support her 100% (are you listening Nishino?!).

These tracks are amazing at the least, but they aren’t perfect. I can admit that. Some tracks throw a big WTF in your face at times, others are extremely bipolar and while everyone can find something they like about this album, many people won’t like all of it. Still…

Welcome to the Sa-World!

★★★★★½

Release Date: 2010.07.12

As an embarrassingly bad intro of epic orchestral strings accompanies a guy who shouts out, “Queen of fierce!”, Korean chanteuse Son Dambi stumbles through a st-st-stutter of bleeps, bloops, and everything in between as a dance-pop beat comes into the forefront. Serving as no more than an introductory-styled opener, “dB Rider” is just the beginning of what the rest of misnomer, “The Queen” has to offer for trendy K-Poppers as of late. Throughout her comeback mini-album, Dambi toys with horribly applied autotune, making her and the songs sound dated. Title track “Queen” tries to be cutting-edge, but just comes off as a half-assed attempt at making something revolutionary, with it’s cut-up and re-pasted piano riffs, and at first you think that it will be a truly great song, but she just comes off as a humorous, electro copy of Lee Hyori.

This is what the critical part of me has to say about Son Dambi’s newest album. And I readily admit these are all very big problems with Dambi’s “epic” return to the industry. But as an avid lover of her last studio album, “Type B“, and of her in general, it was very hard for me to type that. I loveQueen“. I love the mismatched beats that resemble a certain American drunk autotuned whore, the hot mess of a try-hard pop-rock “Beat Up By A Girl“, with her straining voice, and of course, I embrace the absolutely beautiful (but horribly, horribly American Top 40 generic) “Can’t U See“. Dambi has found her niche, of course, copping off everyone she can find (in the case of “Can’t U See“, probably the strongest song on the mini, she’s found her place as a Gummy impersonator). It hurts me to say that, but hey, K-Pop is the most unoriginal genre of music out there (and if you can prove me wrong, tell me so). So while she’s striking out at creating the past magic she once had with Euro-trance dance-pop found on “Bad Boy” and the 80s-influenced “Saturday Night“, she’s doing quite well using her limited means to make enjoyable pop music. If it counts for anything, “Super Duper” sounds like a better version of a Britney song, and as such, is a superb closer.

Why do I love these songs if I can find such huge faults with them? Because this is the story with almost (almost) every mainstream Korean song out there nowadays. You look past the obvious rip-offs, the knockoffs, and the poorly downgraded tunes so you can delude yourself into enjoying them. It’s a harsh reality that can’t be ignored, especially in the case of the so-called “Queen”.

I’ll be repeating these songs for a while, not because I truly, deep-down love them, but because they’re highly enjoyable, albeit recycled dance-pop for the masses. But I have to be frank about the truth of it all: this is the best royalty has to offer us? No wonder I prefer J-Pop.

★★★☆☆☆

Release: 2010.7.7

After three studio albums last year and already one released earlier this one, many would think that Tibetan avex-signed alan would be a bit burnt out. You’d already be partly correct; her debut Japanese was a wonderful attempt, successfully combining traditional instruments of the Orient with a powerful octave of wailing. Then a few months later, “my life“, her second Japanese album dropped like a bomb. More pop-influenced, it was very stale for someone of alan’s position and failed to bring her any more recognition (it did, however, carry the successful “久遠の河” (Kuon no Kawa) single, so at least it has that?) than she already had.

Her last single was still pop-influenced, but it was considerably stronger than her second album. But now I’m confused. I’m assuming avex wants to push alan in a more pop direction, and yet they decide to drop this.

風に向かう花” (Kaze ni Mukau Hana) starts off immediately with wailing, bringing me to faux-nostalgia of “Voice of EARTH“. Oh, and next, we have those traditional bells already ringing! Apparently alan’s not done with being all traditional and such, but I’m not complaining. Songs like this are why I got into alan in the first place, so I’m pretty happy she’s moving into this territory again. Like many of her Chinese buffet background music traditionals, “風に向かう花” tells a tale about overcoming obstacles to do something and there are a bunch of nature references throughout the song (mainly flower petals and waterfalls). A particular line in the song stuck out to me: Don’t forget that everyone is a flower facing the wind…” Oh, eco-friendly alan, how I’ve missed you!

As always, alan is generous with the b-sides, so at least the people who buy her music are getting their money’s worth. “ココニイル” (Koko ni Iru) is a poppier, but nonetheless rare return to form for alan. It’s short (or feels like it), simple, and perfect b-side material. There’s a nice R&B beat present underneath the strings too. I guess alan always feels the need to throw something slow and with a piano on her singles. Nonetheless, the second b-side, “いい日旅立ち” (Ii hi Tabidachi) is a soothing, atmospheric lull of a song that isn’t bad at all.

If you know alan at all, you’ll know that apparently she’s a talented erhu player, so she was kind enough to grace us with some…erhu playing in two erhu versions of her songs, “涙そうそう” (Nada Sousou, a cover of the song by Rimi Natsukawa) and, “” (Kizuna). The first is just a boring acoustic guitar strumming along to some alan vocals. The erhu doesn’t come in until nearly half the song; however, the second, ““, is the perfect erhu song because it’s present throughout and accompanied only by sparse piano lines and faint bass. Oh, and because alan doesn’t sing in it at all.

This is a very good comeback single for alan. However, I was also let down because she had led me on into thinking she would be making more atmospheric electropop like “Over the clouds“. Maybe next time? One thing’s for certain: her next Japanese attempt is going to be a mixed bag. Let’s hope it’s good.

★★★★☆☆

Release Date: 2010.7.13

M.I.A. is no stranger to violence. Having grown up in the warring Sri Lanka, having her family relocate to the UK, sparking controversy for highly political and critical lyrics, she’s also no stranger to criticism herself. Always out to inform and incinerate, I’ll quote something she once gave in an interview, “I’m tired of pop stars who say, ‘Give peace a chance.’ I’d rather say, ‘Give war a chance.’ The whole point of going to the Grammys was to say, ‘Hey, 50,000 people are gonna die next month, and here’s your opportunity to help.’ And no one did.” If that’s any indication of just how important musical expression is to her, then M.I.A. is probably one of the most talented artists of our generation.

Sometimes her lyrics are silly on the surface, but something dark’s bubbling underneath the surface somewhere. Sometimes they’re straight out offensive. And sometimes they don’t make any sense at all, to no one except maybe Maya herself. “Arular“, her debut album, was a joint-smoking party record, with heavy bass and lo-fi electro-hop abound to get more than enough supporters. The next, “Kala“, only served to experiment further, trying to get more and more people aware of the personal, raw side to her dance beats and hypnotic rhythms. But still, most of the masses who went out to buy her album bought it because the songs were catchy. Or because they had heard, “Paper Planes” on the radio and wanted to replay the schoolyard chanting over and over like it was nothing. It may sound bitter to some, but in my opinion most people will never get the point of her music. That she has something big to say and the only way she can get it out there is to rap and electro and dance all over the place. I’m not saying everyone is ignorant to her message, but it’s mainly melodic noise to a lot of people.

I think that with the release of her third album, “/\/\ /\ Y /\“, people may slowly, but steadily, start to understand her message of violence in third-world places better. Because while “/\/\ /\ Y /\” is probably her most out-of-control, disturbed, in your face loud album, it’s also the album where you can finally hear her. I know we could hear her before, but by the tone of these hardcore experiments, a slightly bitter, angry, defiant edge shows through where her last albums failed to reveal. I may be looking too far into it, but I think I have reason to believe so. One thing’s for damn sure: she was born free.

She introduces the album in the eerie, cryptic, “The Message“, with serves up a healthy dose of propaganda, explaining the reason behind the stylistic, unsearchable title of the album, accusing Google of blocking the flow of information for certain groups. From the first seconds of loud destroyer, “Steppin’ Up“, with the infectious, “steppin’ up, in this club / all tooled up like a thug / rub-a-dub-dub”, complete with real chainsaws providing background chorus, it’s clear she means business.

The most mainstream, yet still definably M.I.A. “XXXO“, is a short and sweet synth dance track that spills the beans on everyone wanting her to be someone she can’t be, and really serves as a flowing interlude into six-minute, “Teqkilla“, which samples her own, “Hussel“, which is a hypnotic mountain of alarms and chains and alcohol shots, whisking you off into the dirtiest, seediest nightclub in downtown New Delhi. My favorite song from the album, “Lovalot“, is a stand-up experimental anthem to declare your independence against opression, with some truly humorous lyrics (“Like a Taliban trucka eating boiled-up yucca”) and with such a powerful message and strange, tribal beat, manages to achieve in 2:50 what many of her songs can’t in double the time. “I fight the ones that fight me”. I don’t doubt it.

Zooming into the sparse, pleading “Story To Be Told“, we come to M.I.A.’s latest oddball tracks, “It Takes A Muscle” and “It Iz What It Iz“, the first reggae-influenced and the second being somewhat of a psychotic lullaby (M.I.A. also sounds heavily emotional in this song). Then we came to the oh-so controversial… “I WAS BORN FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!“. A punk-electro anthemic infection that somehow must have resulted from a late-night session of sampling old punk-rock. The music video is also a must-see (warning: very disturbing). It’s probably one of my favorite tracks because of how pissed-off it is and sounds. This sounds like the kind of shit that would be blasting during a bank heist or when you’re beating up some stupid bitch that always bullies you. Definitely one of the must-hears here.

A drug-riddled, pill-popping, Sleigh Bells-produced “Meds and Feds” is a rebellion on wheels, pretty much the kind of music you play to piss off your parents. “I just give a damn, I just-I just give a damn” set against an entire school stadium of drugged-out potheads and cheerleaders clapping while a third-cultured Sri Lankan Brit raps about shooting up? Yes please. The Diplo-produced “Tell Me Why” is a marching-band bittersweet epic about pondering the crimes of humanity, and serves as a brief reprieve before the ultimate closer, “Space“, a truly outer space track, with a breakbeat inserted when you least expect it, making the listener automatically sit up and listen.

A lot of people won’t get this album for a while. They’ll try to riddle out what exactly M.I.A. is talking about half the time, or they just won’t care and dance along. But give “/\/\ /\ Y /\” some time to adjust, and you’ll feel a little more humane, and if you’re like me, you’ll be a little more motivated to change the world, the best you can.

★★★★★★