I really shouldn’t have listened to Arular immediately before hearing Kala. Because when compared against her debut, M.I.A.’s follow-up falls short in a number of ways. It’s less frenetic, less punchy, more gloomy, more cluttered.
But to leave things here would be to miss the point in a big way. Because if there’s one thing we know and love about M.I.A., it’s that she succeeds and fails on nobody’s terms but her own. And on Kala, she’s certainly working on her own terms. No one would have told her to do an electropop version of a Bollywood standard (“Jimmy”). No one would have told her to make a hip hop track using little more than steel drums and a screaming Indian girl (“Bird Flu”).
And yet she did both, resulting in, respectively, a flawless cover and the runaway frontrunner for the year’s best song. And she certainly doesn’t stop there. From “Boyz” to “Mango Pickle Down River” to “Paper Planes,” she’s pushing genre boundaries in new, unexpected, and brilliant ways. It’s certainly more challenging material than one finds on Arular, but it’s just as rewarding.
If Kala has one flaw, it’s that she doesn’t go out on her own turf enough. The “Roadrunner” interpolation on “Bamboo Banger” feels forced, as does “20 Dollar”‘s combination of the lyrics of “Where Is My Mind?” and the hook of “Blue Monday”. But these no more damage the album than a few silly skits did Arular.
I don’t know that Kala‘s the best album of the year. Arcade Fire took a big, unexpected leap forward on Neon Bible, and what I’ve heard of Battles’ debut is incredible. But Kala‘s certainly a contender, and well worth your time.

4 thoughts on “Kala

  1. Huh. I bought it from eMusic, but it seems to have been removed now. Glad I got it when I did, I guess. But yeah, she’s incredible, and unlike anything else I’ve ever heard. She practically inhabits her own genre.

  2. I ended up buying it in iTunes and I love it. I think I also heard some Bhangra beats in a few of the songs. I think “Mango Pickle Down River” is the most interesting song. None of the songs really grab me on first listen like “Galang” did, though.

  3. None of the songs really grab me on first listen like “Galang” did, though.
    I think “Bird Flu” did that for me, and maybe “Paper Planes” too. But I’m glad you like it. And it’s nice that it’s only $7.99 at iTunes.

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