Sometimes you get what you ask for. M.I.A. was supposed to have a new album out months ago, and the wait has left fans frustrated. So when a few M.I.A. fanatics teamed up to badger her for new tracks on Twitter, the singer-rapper-songwriter eventually gave in. Soon one lucky fan received a new song from Maya in her email, and the track inevitably found its way to YouTube.
As that unusual release method suggests, Ms. Arulpragasam hasn’t lost her knack for the offbeat and unpredictable. “AtTENTion” finds Maya tossing out paranoid claims and radical poses as rapidly as ever, but musically it incorporates a number of new elements: Over a shuffling dubstep beat (think Burial, not Skrillex), the song layers ghostly falsetto, moody synths, chopped up vocals, and—in keeping with the song’s theme—a drill sergeant’s call for attention.
The repetitive lyrical conceit of the song, which rhymes every last line with some variation on “tent,” should be exasperating. (At first you might find it a bit too insisTENT.) But Maya brings more than enough playfulness—including references to “past tent, present tent, and future tent”— to keep even an AAAAAAA rhyme scheme interesting. By the time she gets to the 36 Chambers of the “Wu-Tent,” you should know that there’s no point in feeling too resisTENT.
“AtTENTion” won’t be replacing her massive first single “Bad Girls” in the clubs anytime soon. In its sparse beat and droning structure, it’s more of a headphones record. But it’s enough to suggest that her new album, whenever it might finally arrive, will be worth the wait.