Friday, August 24, 2007

I Like Fish And Mango Pickles

M.I.A. can probably be classified in countless genres, including rap, electronic, and dancehall (just to name a few of the more recognizable ones), but her attitude is straight-up punk rock. Born in London, but mostly raised in Sri Lanka, Mathangi "Maya" Arulpragasam, a.k.a. M.I.A., combines third world patois and British street slang into a grimy hip-hop bouillabaisse that sounds like nothing else -- nothing else on these western shores, anyway. I imagine that M.I.A. is the distilled embodiment of the archetype that Malcolm McLaren was trying to create with his Adam and the Ants double drummers and his Bow Wow Wow Burmese lead singer, Annabella Lwin. Only McLaren wasn't close, and M.I.A. gets there without even trying.

M.I.A.'s outstanding new record, Kala (named after her sister), is one of the most exciting and subversive albums I've heard in a while -- maybe since her last one, Arular (named after her Sri Lankan militant father). Kala (the record) was born in countries all over the world, including India, Jamaica, Japan, and Australia, and as a result, the international influences come fast and furious. From the aboriginal Australian children (the "Wilcannia Mob") featured in "Mango Pickle Down River" to guest "Afrikan Boy" who tears up "Hussel" (to the ultimately unnecessary appearance of American rapper/producer Timbaland in "Come Around"), this record feels like Around The World In Twelve Tracks.

Right from the get-go, she lets us know -- on "Bamboo Banga" -- that "M.I.A.'s coming back with power, POWER!", perhaps in answer to critics (see Pitchfork) who have wrongly suggested that she may be more the product of good producers than individual talent. Other highlights include the otherwordly "20 Dollar," which is based ambiguously on the bass line of New Order's "Blue Monday" and refers to the cost of AK-47s in Africa, where "stains," rather than chains, hang low on shirts. Also of note (especially to a blog so named as this one) is the excellent "Paper Planes," which is unambiguously based on the intro of The Clash's "Straight To Hell" and features a chorus of children singing "All I wanna do is . . . [insert the sound of gunshots and a cash register] take your mon-ey."

Kala, which is an unintended testament to Tom Friedman's The World Is Flat, is a must for the adventurous, or even the curious. Joe Strummer would be proud.

MP3: M.IA. - "Bamboo Banga" from Kala

YouTube: M.I.A. - "Birdflu" from Kala