Maya Arulpragasam, better known by her stage name M.I.A., has unleashed her sophomore effort Kala; more ambitious, more melodic and meatier than her debut album Arular. Kala finds the young Ms. Arulpragasam deftly bending her music around even more genres, and understandably so, as portions of the album were written and/or recorded in India, Trinidad, Jamaica, Australia and Japan. Consequently, much of the percussion and instrumentation on Kala contribute to the quite worldly feel of the album.
Bamboo Banger jump-starts proceedings with a jungle beat and some lyrics borrowed from The Modern Lovers; and all at once there’s no looking back. In contrast to Arular, Maya uses her singing voice in addition to her rapping, most skillfully on Jimmy, Jimmy, The Turn, and the brilliant Paper Planes. While the album does sound somewhat inorganic with an overly “electronica” feel, M.I.A. skillfully utilizes the multitude of sounds at her disposal – dogs barking, chickens squawking, children’s choruses, blips, bleeps, lasers, and so on and so forth. Percussion dominates this album, and Kala’s beats are solid – providing the perfect backdrop for M.I.A.’s acerbic lyrics: “In a faraway land we got shit made, Ray-Ban shades, Warheads laid”; “When you go Rwanda Congo, Take me on ya genocide tour, Take me on a truck to Darfur, Take me where you would go”. On the downside, if you can ignore the absolutely hideous album art, Kala’s lowest point occurs in the final track. Come Around, otherwise a perfectly enjoyable song, is quite frankly dragged down by Timbaland’s insipid lyrical contribution.
While fans of Arular will likely be pleased with M.I.A.’s new offering, Kala is by no means an accessible album. Though it boasts several admirable traits, the subject matter is too heavy to be listened to lightly. I applaud M.I.A.’s successful efforts in fusing the world’s political issues with pop culture, but because most of us live outside the purview of the world her lyrics describe, the end product is an album that is easy to commend yet difficult to connect with on an emotional level. Still, Kala deserves credit for being an acutely ambitious work of art, and whether or not the album will propel M.I.A. into the mainstream remains to be determined.