Sunday, September 16, 2007


M.I.A.’s second record, Kala, is an exercise in musical globe-trotting, borrowing sounds from the handful of countries she visited while recording: Australia, Jamaica, India, Japan, and, of course, her native England. But she doesn’t stop at lifting global grooves; she’s also fond of showing off her indie-rock knowledge, whether it’s sampling The Clash on “Paper Planes,” or dropping lyrics from the Pixies (on “20 Dollar”) or the Modern Lovers (on album standout “Bamboo Banga”). All of this overtop the hard-to-penetrate, minimalist Timbaland-inspired beats that critics love to love. (Timbaland even lends his laid-back voice and production to CD closer, “Come Around.”)
     But, while I can understand M.I.A.’s critical appeal, I don’t share it, not fully at least. Her mix of global sounds put to bass-heavy beats often reminds me of Basement Jaxx, who have been doing ragga- and Indian-influenced dance songs for years. And many of the tracks, like the bizarre “Bird Flu,” the tuneless “Hussel,” or the somewhat playful “Mango Pickle Down River” (featuring Aboriginal child rappers The Wilcannia Mob) don’t feel fully formed — let’s call them song fragments.
     The tracks on Kala that hit home have the most serious edge: album opener “Bamboo Banga,” which follows a slamming beat and doesn’t let go, and “20 Dollar,” a chill-out number that almost feels out of place on a record with a lot of misplaced energy. B-
Bamboo Banga (mp3)
M.I.A.: 20 Dollar (mp3)

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