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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

M.I.A. - "Kala" 95%

The verdict is in..."Kala", the follow-up to former Sri Lankan refugee M.I.A.'s critically lauded 2005 debut "Arular" is a solid, fresh, and most importantly - vital effort. The album wastes no time pulling you into its inexorable world with the aptly titled 'Bamboo Banga'. Complete with a menacing bass and the sound of speeding cars whizzing by, as Maya chants "Roadrunner, roadrunner, going hundred mile per hour...", we are immediately transported to say, a steaming hot Middle Eastern desert - oil rigs, fires, and Hummers - a desperately sparse world of extreme poverty overshadowed by obscene wealth, where she's "...knocking on the doors of your hummer hummer".

M.I.A. has something to say, but at the same time she's not afraid to party, which is exactly what kicks in on tracks 2 through 4 with a string of guaranteed club bangers - the rambunctous 'Bird Flu', the infectious recent single 'Boyz', and the Bollywood tribute 'Jimmy'. The influences are abundant, ranging from Bhangra and Bollywood to new wave, gangsta rap and futuristic anti-disco. In what would seem to come across like the flea market of beats and samples evolves into something quite profound.

By the album's midpoint, things get a bit more serious and confrontational - the real woman behind the new hip-hop, post-punk rock star image emerges. On 'Mango Pickle Down River', a chorus of kids (The Wilcannia Mob) take center stage over another deep and sinister bass line, rapping about fishing, playing cards, and other everyday river-life activities kids engage in, in the villages of Kenya, Bali, and I'm guessing Maya's part would be referring to Sri Lanka. But who's to say? According to a variety of articles, when she was repeatedly locked out of the US due to visa issues, Maya traveled the world, gathering inspiration for 'Kala'. It definitely shows from beginning to end and this alone is what probably saved 'Kala' from the all too common second album nosedive.

The harrowing dub slash sci-fi torch ballad '20 Dollar' brilliantly references the PIXIES' "Where Is My Mind' and NEW ORDER's 'Blue Monday', all the while maintaining utter originality; so much so that you'd find it hard to believe that the track is somewhat of a borderline mash-up cover song. The defining track here though is the excellent 'Paper Planes', which uses gunshots and ka-chings for the chorus beats.

"I fly like paper, get high like planes
If you catch me at the border I got visas in my name
If you come around here, I make 'em all day
I get one down in a second if you wait"

This is M.I.A. at her most personal and profound, successfully proving her vitality in an overflooded hip-hop market and, ultimately, laying down the groundwork for a new era in the otherwise seemingly faded genre.

STREAM - M.I.A. - Kala (entire album)

1 comment:

seandonson said...

Word. MIA gets definitely points for not being afraid of getting weird and trying something new.