Tuesday, August 14, 2007

M.I.A. / "Kala"

M.I.A. is a female Sri Lankan hip-hop artist. She struck it big in 2005 with "Arular," an album that garnered a great deal of critical acclaim and was ultimatley named to numerous end of the year lists and shortlisted for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize. It is at this point I have a confession to make: despite reading all of the accolades and recommendations, I never listened to the album even once. With the early reviews again very positive for her sophomore release (and the album being entirely streamed on her MySpace page) I decided it was time I gave her a chance. Here's the bottom line: I'm glad I was able to stream it, because had I purchased it I would be immensely regretting it.

It fails as a hip-hop album due to amateurish production, poor delivery, and the mixed quality of the lyrics. On paper, mixing Timbaland-esque beats and layering with a jungle sound would appear to be a great idea. However, when executed it is frequently too much and trips over its own ambitions. When it is scaled back, like on the relatively simplistic (and album best) "Mango Pickle Down" it can be very effective and likeable. It's unforunate how rarely that occurs though on this album. The delivery, meanwhile, is simply awful. Her voice isn't appealing, it is far-too-often double-tracked and consequently rendered nearly unlistenable at times. Let me put it this way: It's exactly what you'd expect a female Sri Lankan rapper to sound like, and that's not a good thing. The lyrics, at times, are fantastic. Take this rhyme from "The Turn": "I'm trying to do my best, / Get my head up out the stress. / When the money turns the world / Your lovin' turns to less." It's a shame the album is instead mostly comprised of junk like "Live in trees, chew on feet / Watch 'Lost' on cable. / Bird flu gonna get you." from "Bird Flu."

"Kala" wants to be a politically-charged hip-hop album with heavy dance influences. It ends up being a mostly forgettable album with a few highlights ("Mango Pickle Down" as a hip-hop song and "XR2" as a dance track). The Streets proved with "Original Pirate Material" that an incredibly unorthodox hip-hop delivery combined with a dance influence could produce surprisingly great results. Perhaps it's because Mike Skinner knew his limitations and rather than trying to ignore them, played to them to create a sound that was all his own and kept things relatively simple and effective. M.I.A. only knows how to set everything to kill and because of going too-far too often, this album is a convoluted mess. No doubt when August 21st rolls around, she will again receive excessive critical adulation and I will sit in my tiny corner of the internet and listen as my negative few of this album is drowned out by the sounds of all those pretending to enjoy this album as to create an image of being hip and edgy. Consider her the Joanna Newsom of hip-hop.

Rating: 3.1

(all apologies to fans of "Ys")


scott w said...

Where do you find this stuff. I am glad it is not on Sirius radio so I don't have to hear it

Kid C said...

I'm glad that I will never have to listen to it again.