Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Across the Universe: M.I.A. and Battles

To call an artist or group iconoclastic or revolutionary or any other exaggerated buzz word seems disingenuous from the start. Mostly because these words are thrown around so flippantly that they have all but lost their meaning when it comes to describing truly exciting music. The two best albums that I've heard this year are neither iconoclastic nor revolutionary. However, they are about as close as music can come to those things without forgetting themselves in the process.

Battles debut album Mirrored and M.I.A.'s second LP Kala both seem to share in the same aesthetic bliss of breaking down walls of cliche' and presumption and put in their places, instead, mountains of spastic, manic sound. The end result is so marvellous and invigorating one would be hard-pressed to find better examples of precision and chaos rolled into one over the passed decade.

With Mia, she's finally been accepted as a "rapper." Which is interesting because I remember so many mainstream publications really didn't know what to make of her when Arular rolled around. Anyhow, with this acceptance comes a distinctly odd blend of confidence and eagerness within her music. It's almost as if her acceptance wasn't enough. Now she is attempting to solidify her status at the top of the world. All through out Kala you get this jarring confidence offset by manic, wandering turns into slight snobbery, that actually end up adding to the experience a lot more than one would think. She wields these clusterfuck songs of drum n' bass hybrids and baile funk ghosts into an exhausting exercise in smash mouth style production. It's safe to say that whether you like Kala or not--and the album will surely be middling to many--you've never heard anything quite like this from Mia. With Kala, M.I.A. has been simultaneously able to build upon her already established persona, and somehow completely reinvent herself. Arular and PFT are probably better albums, but she has managed to go even farther off the map here and it is a fine, fine mess. Kala is not perfect by any means, and that's why it's so damned compelling. It's like you ended up at the wrong house for the party, but the shit going on here is way better than your boring ass friends. So, fuck it. Stay a while.

Battles is a different animal all together, but remain similar to Mia in their complete desire plow through preconceptions. And I don't mean about them or their genre--just preconceptions about music in general. Certainly rock music, if you want to get specific. Mirrored is just an absolute workshop when it comes to percussion and the way guitar and strings can meld with electronics to build a completely solid creature that is at once a perfect, methodical killing machine as well as a raging beast killing indiscriminately. This is like watching fusion find its footing. I know that is a way over-the-top exaggeration, but I am dead serious. People don't make music like this. Certainly not rock musicians. I remember thinking how much OK Computer and Kid A had pushed the envelope for rock music once upon a time. Those albums clearly did, but Mirrored does so in a much more organic way. It seems like the natural progression, and it makes it all very exciting. Battles Mirrored is unquestionably my album of the year so far.

While M.I.A. and Battles seem to exist in two different worlds of the music universe, they both understand what it is to push themselves to new realms that go beyond even their expectations and aspirations. Both Kala and Mirrored are the products of artists pushing themselves to the absolute limit...and then pushing themselves even harder. It's all so tiring and even down-right psychotic at times. Somehow, though, it all seems to work in the most revolutionary and iconoclastic ways possible.


If you've never heard of either of these groups...Wake up! Samples of their music can be found here and here.

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