M.I.A. :: Kala
[interscope]   review from shree  

After the critical smash of a debut like M.I.A.'s back in 2005, the anticipation building up to her second full length was bound to be immense. The internet was rife with rumors of her break-up with Diplo - how that would affect the sound of her upcoming release and whether she could ever match the genius of Arular. All this in spite of a now infamous Pitchfork interview where she insists that Diplo was directly involved in only one track off her debut, the massive "Rocky Theme" sampling "Bucky Done Gun." Their personal relationship overshadowed the real stars responsible for the production of that album, namely M.I.A. herself, the Cavemen and Richard X. Rest assured, there is no danger of that on Kala as Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam's talent speaks for itself with a little assistance from the usual suspects - electro, dancehall, hip-hop, grime, Tamil and Bollywood samples and a few of today's hottest underground knob-twiddlers.

Dave Taylor, better known as UK house producer Switch, deserves much of the credit as he largely produced Kala. "Bamboo Banga" is an excellent jump-off for an incredibly bold album - a sure fire hit single that in the span of 5 minutes references a seminal rock anthem called "Roadrunner" and samples an Ilaiyaraja-penned Tamil song. Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past year, you'd have heard or seen the MySpace and YouTube hit, "Bird Flu" with its raucous Tamil beats, weird chicken cackles and shrieks of random village children. Although not an official single release (that honor goes to "Boyz"), it gave us a taste of M.I.A.'s new look and sound. "Boyz" is M.I.A. at her best - that future funk so hard to label - one that's a call to dance (and sometimes arms) more than anything else we've heard in the past 5 years. Both tracks clock in under three and a half minutes each but those seven minutes are the most exciting of the disc. Next up is the ultra catchy, Bollywood-inspired "Jimmy," a track that jacks most of "Jimmy Jimmy Jimmy Aaja" from 1982's campy yet cult classic, Disco Dancer. Switch turns it into an instantly accessible disco-electro tune and it's M.I.A. like you've never heard her before; she actually sounds pop. After some gaffes - "Mango Pickle Down Under" features an obscure Aboriginal kids' hip hop group called the Wilcannia Mob and has M.I.A. reduced to rhyming 'fish and mango pickle' with 'feet them tickle'; the New Order and Pixies pilfering "20 Dollar," and the mediocre, Blaqstarr produced "The Turn." Luckily the back end of Kala holds some serious promise.

In true M.I.A. fashion, politics - often the militant kind - are never far away. "World Town" has her chanting "Hands up, Guns out" along a thumping, bass-heavy Switch track. "XR2" is a throwback to early 90's acid-rave that could have been a leftover from Arular and the amazing, Diplo-helmed "Paper Planes" is a sing-song-y slow cut, a chorus peppered with gunshots, cash register clangs and a Clash loop.

Visa issues (she was denied entry into the U.S., undoubtedly due to her very vocal support and familial ties to the LTTE) might have prevented this disc being as big as Arular. Her one track with über producer Timbaland ("Come Around") was already featured on his recent full length and although a great track in its own right (minus its 'teepee' quoting lyrics), now ends up sounding like a last minute thrown-on and a bit dated. Its incorporation of Shamur's Indi-Pop hit "Let The Music Play" undoubtedly introduced urban audiences to desi sounds and M.I.A. but here it just sounds safe. Never thought you'd hear the words Timbaland and safe used in the same sentence? Now you have.

Daring is the word that comes to mind when describing Kala. In any other scenario, especially in the realm of electronic based music, daring would be a good thing, but in M.I.A.'s hands, it straddles the line between dance music and abstract electronica. While it may not win her too many new fans, it's brilliant enough to keep the rest of us hardcore ones flying the flag for our favorite globe-hopping, genre-bashing Sri Lankan.

ethnotechno rating: 3.5 out of 5
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  1. Bamboo Banga
  2. Birdflu
  3. Boyz (pick)
  4. Jimmy
  5. Hussel
  6. Mango Pickle Down River (pick)
  7. 20 Dollar
  8. World Town
  9. The Turn
  10. XR2
  11. Paper Planes
  12. Come Around (pick)