Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Review: M.I.A. "Kala"

No matter how tough anyone seems on the exterior, everyone gets a little broken inside...

...but of course, in the eyes of the artist, this internal breakage is a golden opportunity.

If there's anyone tougher than Maya Arulpragasam, AKA "M.I.A.", let me know. The London-born Sri Lankan has really seen it all, but you don't see the woman shed a tear. It's not hard to say that M.I.A. is the toughest woman in the business.
M.I.A. surfaced onto the music scene with her smashing 2005 debut Arular, a colorful, powerful, and sometimes whimsical portrait of war, especially the war she dealt with. Arular was M.I.A.'s masculine, somber autobiography put into music, and she does a wonderful job of getting her point across. It felt perfect to anybody who disagreed with their government because of its powerful political messages.

Those who loved M.I.A. so much for the politics may be a bit disappointed with her long-awaited sophomore disc, Kala. While Arular is masculine and named after her father, Kala is for her mother. And you definitely see the difference-- when Arular dealt with feelings toward corporate music sharks, idiots in office, sexual publicity, and issues that a country goes through, Kala is for the feelings of the individual. You don't hear many political complaints on Kala, which focuses a lot on having a good time, clubbing, and most uncommonly, heartbreak.
After a break-up with American DJ Diplo, M.I.A. seems to have used her music for venting. The amazing Bollywood disco track "Jimmy" is bound to be a hit, and the number one reason might be that it is M.I.A.'s first love song (outside of an underground collaboration with rapper Amanda Blank, which can be heard on her MySpace). Despite the fact that a love song seemed unlikely, it works... and it's already a Top 40 hit in Japan.

While M.I.A. doesn't talk about politics much, she doesn't avoid them completely... single-that-never-was "Bird Flu" speaks of retaining strength and dignity in the face of conflict, "Paper Planes" is an addition to her opinions on war, and standout "$20" paints a vivid portrait of organized crime (while effectively sampling The Pixies' "Where Is My Mind?", a wonderfully unexpected choice). The politics might not be in-your-face, but they're still there.

M.I.A. pinpoints issues dead-on, and Kala seems to have quite a great understanding of the world. And it was made all over-- and sounds like it. You get the vibes of Australia ("Mango Pickle Down River"), India's glitzy on-screen culture ("Jimmy"), the UK rave scene ("XR2"), the Parisian club-banger scene ("Bamboo Banger")... she captured the essence of places she didn't even record in. M.I.A. seems to understand the world more than most politicians.

While Kala is different, it blissfully shows M.I.A.'s growth as an artist and human being. M.I.A. recently turned 30, which is a big thing in a person's life... it's almost the unspoken, official transition into complete adulthood. She seems to have done some thinking over it, but M.I.A. has definitely not gone soft. M.I.A. has matured since Arular, but still knows how to have fun. It seems she's making a sure statement out of the saying "Grow up, but don't grow old."

Kala finally drops on August 21st, and it's worth the wait.



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