M.I.A., 'Kala' (XL/Interscope)

9
Kala
Critical Mass
Label: XL/ Interscope

by Barry Walters

"Every wall you build, I'll knock it down to the floor," the Sri Lanka–raised, London-based Maya Arulpragasam testifies over the syncopated clang of someone knocking mightily on a cold metal door. And with that, she captures nothing less than the sound of the third world demanding entry to the first.

Like its creator (who was denied a U.S. visa while making much of this album), Kala is rooted in several cultures, but resides in none. Quoting the Modern Lovers' proto-punk "Roadrunner" in the opening "Bamboo Banga," the lifelong refugee goes 100 mph throughout this intensified follow-up to her acclaimed 2005 debut, Arular. It's so heavy with percussion, both internationally man-made and machine-generated, that it evokes a street fair where each reveler is banging away on every available surface.

There's the occasional fleet-footed love song, like "Jimmy," where a Bollywood string melody skips across a bed of oompa-loompa Europop synths; and the menacing "20 Dollar" nicks chord changes from New Order's "Blue Monday." But mostly there are just drums, gangs of children, and gunshots building tension like a ghetto marching band, but denying melodic release.

At a time when more Americans than ever feel like outsiders in their own country, M.I.A.'s border-crossing dance pop is a revolutionary manifesto set to the victory-party vibe of the future.

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