When Arular dropped after months and months of 2004’s Piracy Funds Terrorism, Vol. 1, M.I.A.’s official 2005 debut felt somewhat anti-climactic. Don’t get us wrong, we loved it. On top our own feelings, there was plenty of mainstream success, that ubiquitous “Galang” car commercial, and colorfully same-same profiles, but as a “debut” it at times felt more like an echo of Diplo’s earlier mix. Well, Diplo (and others) are still assisting the Sri Lankan songstresses on Kala, but Ms. Arulpragasam feels more in control of her own sound and her own voice (less of that “whoooooo” vocal tick), creating a fresh, stylistic collage that travels the vast
world as ebulliently as Arular’s prequel. We dig.
This is Maya’s nighttime record. Minus the “Ba-na-na”-style skits and “Sunshowers,” it often plays like the soundtrack to some after hours speakeasy: Catch the glassy strings on “Jimmy,” a straight-out-of-Bollywood disco track. Anyone wanna go roller skating? Standout “Paper Planes” is a “Rump Shaker”-referencing John Hughes prom moment complete with … a constantly reloading gun and cash register? Thank Diplo for that (and will you just look how cute!).
Throughout, M.I.A.’s incorporating Indian music and various hip-hop or pop cultural references in a smoother and less affixed manner. See, for instance, the super opening triad of “Bamboo Banger,” “Bird Flu,” and “Boyz.” “Bamboo”‘s makes the Modern Lovers do the Macarena with Duran Duran over, again, old-school Bollywood pop vocals (check ‘em at 3:40 … they peek out again at 4:15). Or the the dholak lines in first single “Boyz” and “Bird Flu” … subtle. Subtler? “20 Dollar” isn’t a stylistic sequel to “10 Dollar,” but it does include a reworked “Blue Monday” sample and “Where Is My Mind” lyrics. Fair trade off, that.
It also feels like there are fewer cooks: The Wilcannia Mob (a/k/a The Lolipop Guild?) show up on “Mango Pickle Down River,” UK MC Afrikan Boy offers some grime ‘n’ swagger (“You think it’s tough now / come to Africa”) to the money-hating “Hussel” (dig the bootlegging jokes) … only Timbaland’s requisite guest spot and outro rap on on the
easy-going “Come Around” feels a tad … affixed. Great producer, but …
All said, though, Kala’s tighter, more wide-ranging palette hits like a concerted attack sans filler: Like M.I.A. rattles in “World Town,” “Hands up … guns out.” No need to shoot, Maya, we go peacefully.
Kala is out 8/21 on XL.