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The first time I ever experienced the joy that is Ahmad was when he got up on stage and shook his (magnificent) ass at the now legendary M.I.A./LCD Soundsystem show at 9:30 Club years ago. So what better way to debut his first BYT post with a record review of her new album ‘Kala’, being released Aug 21st on Interscope. I was gonna edit down some of his potty mouth, but changed my mind, enjoy. -cale

Rating system
0 stars – Complete and utter garbage
1 star – Best just not to ever press play, save your ears for another day
2 stars – Not completely atrocious, but one you’ll probably forget about as soon as it’s over
3 stars – Good, but not great, likely with some excellent songs and others you’ll skip right through
4 stars – Damn good album, one you’ll definitely want to enjoy again and again
5 stars – Instant Classic

M.I.A. – Kala
Rating: ****

After listening to M.I.A.’s latest album on repeat for almost a week now, it’s become very clear to me what people need to understand about who this girl is and what she’s got to say. From about the 2 minute mark into the album, it became so clear to me that she owes way more to Grace Jones than she does to Diplo. Let’s review:

Immigrant chick from a third-world country? Check.
Radical sense of fashion? Check.
Highly opinionated/controversial? Check.
Excellent command of rhythm? Check.

The only thing Maya has left to do is star in shitty action movies, and grope Eddie Murphy. But whereas Grace was all New York, Maya is very much Baltimore.

“Bamboo Banga”, the first song to hit your ear drums plays like some Baltimore Bass Connection mix of “Slave to the Rhythm”, and her thesis statement couldn’t be clearer. She’s bringing an all out third-world assault to the dance floor, and dammit it’s NECESSARY. She’s name checking Ghana, Angola, and Mali on a song with a drum pattern that’s built like a coffee percolator, and some random Bollywood sample behind it. It’s the freshest shit I’ve heard in a couple months.

The album follows through like a 1, 2 punch with the highlights, rolling with the clucking mad chant of “Bird Flu”, and the (amazing) first single, “Boyz”, which I’m sure everyone’s already heard.

Then Maya goes unexpectedly campy for her lovelorn ode to her soldier boy on “Jimmy”, which finds her begging for his return over a pulsing synth line and strings that had to be lifted straight from Saturday Night Fever. Shit, I’m down…the video’s cute too.

The middle section of the album seems to be a little sluggier in pace, but maybe that’s because the whole first end of the album hits you like cocaine and red bull at 11:30 on a Friday night. She jacks the Wilcannia Mob’s 2002 hit (in Australia, at least), “Down River”, (and um…adds her Mango Pickle to it?) for “Mango Pickle Down River”. The song sounds like a regular freestyle match that you would find on any playground in the inner city…except it’s got a didgeridoo on it. I haven’t heard one of those since…hmm…“The Dreaming”.

Kala picks back up for “20 Dollar”, as in the price of an AK-47 in certain parts of Africa. She takes the opportunity to integrate the Pixies, “Where Is My Mind” into her tale of guerilla antics, and plays connect the dots with the indie set. “World Town” is more dance floor ready and will definitely be highlight of her next live show in DC. It’s a burst of energy, culture, and shouting packed into 4 minutes that just DON’T seem long enough. She comes across as some hyped-up cheerleader with a gun and a MPC…and I fucking love it.

The album highlight however, is tucked away right towards the end, with the instant shake of XR2. She brings her tone down with the opening lines of “Where were you in ’92?”, and really lights a match under our asses with the simple hook of “whistle, whistle, blow, blow…” The horns get going, she bursts into a very Vogue-like chant about TLC, SWV, and Jodeci.

[Side note: I might as well mention the shittiest thing on this fucker: The generic, took all of 5-minutes to make, Timbaland-produced “Come Around”. I can ONLY guess that this was a leftover track from his shitty album. (…and yes, his album was PURE shit.) Thank GOD it’s a bonus track. I don’t think consider it a part of the album.]

The last song on this affair doesn’t have the “bring ‘em back for more” effect that “Galang” had, but it IS damn good. “Paper Planes” is the best song to sum up the central theme of the album, so fittingly, she closed Kala with it. It’s essentially a gritty affair with lyrics that read like some bizarro “Safe Darfur” campaign, atop of jungle book horns and rhythms that couldn’t have come from this side of the border. She really does “put people on the map that’s never seen a map”, and it sounds good.

I love the sequencing, how it’s bookended with two great tracks that both get a point across AND can make you build up a nice sweat (Once again, I’m not considering the bonus track to be the end of the album.). What more do you want from her? For a second album, she’s avoided the sophomore slump and progressed nicely. It’s primitive, it’s political, and it’s FUN. (How often do we get THAT in D.C.? Bjork’s album doesn’t count because…well, she’s Bjork. Plus she doesn’t come to D.C.)

Stream the album on MIA’s myspace page: http://www.myspace.com/mia

Buy it at Insound!