M.I.A. bursts out of the gate on her second album with both guns blazing. She’s not kidding around at all. Everything about Kala is confrontational. From the patronizing political self-righteousness to the relentless flurry of abrasive beats to the jagged rapping, Kala takes everything that was provoking about her exotic debut, Arular, and intensifies it to the extreme.
There’s not much in the way of melody on a M.I.A. record, so you won’t be humming many of these tunes. But what she lacks in melody, she more than makes up for in aural audaciousness. Sampling for M.I.A. is not an isolated experiment, as her palette is globalized. When a Western artist dabbles in so-called world music, it’s typically viewed with sweeping disdain and a collective sigh. Just ask Sting or Peter Gabriel. But M.I.A. can earnestly dabble in the cross-cultural musical melting pot of her making without sounding overly self-aggrandizing.
The found-sounds that M.I.A. uses to rattle the cages, while she and her arsenal of guest rappers spit out their pat rhetoric, serve to make the ride as bumpy as possible. There’s no settling in to this record. It’s an aural attack and one that rarely reveals any chinks in its armor. The baile funk influence is still evident, although, M.I.A. trashes it up with gargled synthesizers and rap leads that are split, spliced, and diced. Only on “Paper Planes”, which samples The Clash’s “Straight to Hell”, does M.I.A. yield to melody, but it’s a welcome, if unexpected, reprieve.
Having been recorded in no less than six countries with multiple producers, including Switch, Blaqstarr, Diplo, and the ubiquitous Timbaland, Kala plays a little unevenly, but that is as designed. Good luck trying to sample M.I.A. You’d have to strip a song bare to find any semblance of a core. The layers of sound are deliberately incongruous, but the record stretches itself in so many directions that your ear will undoubtedly rise to the challenge.