M.I.A., "Matangi" (Interscope)
M.I.A. gets her groove back on the fourth album by the London-based Sri Lankan pop-provocateuse born Mathangi Arulpragasam. (For this album's title, she drops the H to match the spelling of the Hindu goddess of music and learning.) After emerging with the expert global street-beat agit-rap of 2005's "Arular" and breaking through with the Clash-sampling "Paper Planes" on 2007's "Kala," M.I.A. lost her way with the shrill, too-often-tuneless attack on 2010's "Maya." With the help of numerous knob-twiddlers, including Hit Boy and Switch, the 38-year-old firebrand once again sounds kinetic and confident on "Matangi." She revels in rat-a-tat cacophony in "Bring the Noize." She dabbles in distorted drum 'n' bass on "Attention." She rides a tribal beat on "Warriors" and makes sultry use of a sample of the Weeknd on "Exodus." The album is not as bracingly brilliant as her early work, but it's good to have one of the most thrilling and thought-provoking artists of the '00s back in form.
Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer
Lindi Ortega, "Tin Star" (Last Gang)
The bittersweet title track addresses the struggles that musicians face in Nashville. The fact that Ortega has made her third consecutive great album in three years makes her theme all the more poignant. The Toronto native, an imaginative songwriter and fierce singer now based in Nashville, should be an alt-country superstar by now. Ortega is frustrated on "Waitin' on My Luck to Change" and resolute on the funereal closer "Songs About." Yet fear not: The spitfire singer with the Dolly Parton tremolo has the gumption to match the riveting up-tempo fare from producer Dave Cobb — rowdy, rootsy and rockabilly.
CHUCK CAMPBELL, Scripps Howard News Service
James Blunt, "Moon Landing" (Atlantic)
Blunt's treacly 2004 single "You're Beautiful" earned huge sales and abject loathing from critics. His latest, "Moon Landing," is his sort-of attempt to get back to flintier, personal songwriting. He does manage to out-Mumford and out-Sheeran his fellow Brits on the rustic single "Bonfire Heart" (ironically, co-written with super-pop penman Ryan Tedder). "Heart to Heart" has some upbeat sock-hop fun. But James Blunt titling a song "Always Hate Me"? He might as well leave a 24-pack of toilet paper on his front lawn with a sign reading, "Have at It, Guys."
August Brown, Los Angeles Times