• 120206-mia.png

    Deconstructing M.I.A.

    Confused revolutionary? Brilliant provocateur? As her Super Bowl digit malfunction reminded everyone, Maya Arulpragasam is one of the most polarizing figures in pop today, a neon blur of contradictions and conflations — but she may also be the most thrilling. Here's a handy primer to her life and art and everything in between SPIN originally published in our August 2010 issue. By some accounts — including her own — we should all be done talking about Maya Arulpragasam. In 2007, promoting her sophomore album, Kala, the singer known as M.I.A. told an interviewer, "I feel like a mirror reflecting back everyone's perception of me. Part of me wants to carry on. Part of me wants to stop." Eight months later, onstage at Bonnaroo, she went even further: "This is my last show," she announced.

  • Mark Ronson & The Business Intl., 'Record Collection' (RCA)

    Mark Ronson & The Business Intl., 'Record Collection' (RCA)

    Celebrity DJ/superproducer/scenester/fashion plate/society boy Mark Ronson will never be a beloved man of the people. But his hugely successful R&B mash-up with Amy Winehouse was undeniable, and on his third solo album Ronson drops a fun hodgepodge of original material, the first on which he both writes and sings. Everyone this side of Jewel shows up -- Q-Tip, Ghostface, Boy George, Simon Le Bon, D'Angelo, and a whole slew of "the guy from"s, as in the guy from Drums, the guy from the Zutons, the guy from Phantom Planet, on and on. Wisely, the album flows like a mixtape rather than a stab at artistic self-definition, with Brooklyn funk band the Dap Kings laying down a unifying groove and Ronson's love of vintage '80s synthesizers providing a stylistic through line. On "Bang Bang Bang," Q-Tip and dance-pop ingénue MNDR get together for some sunny, loopy new wave.

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    Understanding M.I.A.: 5 Things You Need to Know

    Confused revolutionary? Brilliant provocateur? Maya Arulpragasam is the most polarizing figure in pop today, a neon blur of contradictions and conflations -- but she may also be the most thrilling. Here's a handy guide to her life and art and everything in between. [Full Magazine Story] By some accounts -- including her own -- we should all be done talking about Maya Arulpragasam. In 2007, promoting her sophomore album, Kala, the singer known as M.I.A. told an interviewer, "I feel like a mirror reflecting back everyone's perception of me. Part of me wants to carry on. Part of me wants to stop." Eight months later, onstage at Bonnaroo, she went even further: "This is my last show," she announced. Like many things she says, the statement posed more questions than it answered.

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    Exclusive: Inside Pavement's Reunion

    March 1, 2010: It was the night the coolest band ever officially became rock stars. Not because the drummer snorted his weight in Peruvian lady or because the guitarist named the first daughter from his third marriage after his second yacht. Those are things a rock star does, but they aren't what make someone a rock star. You become a rock star when you can get onstage without adding anything new to your artistic legacy and still make thousands of people lose their minds. It's adulation as ritual, expectations met as a matter of course. It wasn't that Pavement came off like cynical Mötley Crüe/Eagles clock-punchers when they played the Auckland Town Hall in New Zealand for the first show of the year's reunion binge. Far from it.

  • Jason Collett, 'Rat a Tat Tat' (Arts&Crafts)

    In 2008, this Broken Social Scenester released a pleasant, mid-'70s singer-songwriter record, like Jackson Browne's Late for the Sky by way of Wilco, only softer. Here, he works the '70s nexus between bubblegum soul and country, like Stealers Wheel's"Stuck in the Middle With You," only less sunny. Collett's vision of AM Gold is homespun (thanks to low-key Toronto backing band Zeus). He can't really pull off Dylan-ish literariness, but when he's loose, he more than earns his corduroy vest and Kris Kristofferson beard. BUY:Amazon

  • Aloha, 'Home Acres' (Polyvinyl)

    Pretty much every song on this prog-pop band's sixth disc evokes moodiness via some sort of weather, event, or technological-flux metaphor. It's a suitable theme for elegantly mutable yet hummably compact songs, led by marimba as often as guitar. And they're emboldened by frontman Tony Cavallario's ability to sing like Lou Barlow as a poofy-sleeved eco wizard ("White wind blow through my room," he incants on one especially gusty number). The best bits aspire to an Animal Collective–cum-R.E.M. dream-weave, well suited for watching sunlight roll across your bedroom wall. BUY:Amazon

  • Gorillaz, 'Plastic Beach' (Virgin)

    Gorillaz, 'Plastic Beach' (Virgin)

    Damon Albarn claims the concept for the third Gorillaz album came to him while watching people and animals forage through a Malian garbage dump. Indeed, most every one of these lazy, hazy burbling bangers evokes the life cycle of human waste (shrink-wrap, microwaves, money). But the real reusable materials here are actual humans -- i.e., more cameos than you can shake a banana at -- which Albarn recycles and filters through his gears like old aluminum. ShareThere's Snoop Dogg mumbling about the end of the world on the minimalist dub-funk rumbler "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach," Lou Reed rapping, "Well, me, I like plastics..." over music-hall bounce on "Some Kind of Nature," punk brick-chucker Mark E.

  • HIM, 'Screamworks: Love in Theory and Practice' (Sire)

    This Finnish "love-metal" band had a minor modern-rock hit with 2005's "Wings of a Butterfly," while 2007's Venus Doom grasped for proggy cred. But here they're back trying to build that elusive American fan base by sounding like a pro forma emo-fed hard-rock band with some likably silly Euro-doom flourishes. Old-school romantic Ville Valo croons as often as he screams, so that even when aiming for the stylistic median, a bit of local weirdness oozes forth to make Screamworks more interesting than it's designed to be. BUY: iTunesAmazon

  • Vampire Weekend, 'Contra' (XL)

    They make Pavement seem like poor folks. They make Steely Dan sound like simps. Sharpen up those Google-search fingers, everybody, Vampire Weekend are back in town: "In December, drinking horchata / I'd look psychotic in a balaclava," frontman Ezra Koenig sings on Contra. Later he rhymes "horchata" with "Aranciata," then "Masada." That Ezra, he so smart. Not just smart, true too! A ruling-class dude would look silly enjoying his leisure-hour drink dressed like a Chechen terrorist, and that elaborate image gets at the heart of Vampire Weekend's weird appeal. The "Upper West Side Soweto" referenced on their shockingly successful 2008 debut juxtaposed images of Ivy entitlement with African and West Indian dance grooves, spoofing "world music" while giving us some of the best global white-guy pop since Paul Simon's Graceland.

  • Ghostface Killah, 'Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City' (Def Jam)

    It's a cold, hard world and a Ghostface Killah needs a Ghostface girl -- the kind who'll wear a nurse costume when you get back from a long night at the studio, rock the foxy librarian look on a lazy Sunday, who'll kill for you and die with you, write to you in Rikers and call you on your bullshit, take long walks and communicate in parks. Billed as an R&B record, The Wizard of Poetry does explore gushy emotions -- from endless devotion ("You're like a fingerprint, I'll never find a match like you," he raps over a soulful sample on "Do Over") to parenting (on "Baby," he grabs his preggers lady some Popeye's chicken on the way home from a night out).

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