Summary

Kala and Arular are similar in that they are both wildly vigorous and wholly enjoyable albums, generous with blunt-force beats, flurries of percussion, riotous vocals (with largely inconsequential lyrics), and fearless stylistic syntheses that seem to view music from half of the planet's countries as potential source material. But Kala nearly makes Arular seem tame in comparison, magnifying most of its predecessor's qualities as it remains bracingly adventurous. While it certainly sounds like a second M.I.A. album, nothing about it is stagnant. Made in piecemeal fashion while located in several countries, Kala involves a few co-producers: U.K. "dirty house" producer Switch is the primary collaborator, while Baltimore club don Blaqstarr, Diplo, and Timbaland assist M.I.A. on one or a couple tracks each. Further variety is added vocally, not only through M.I.A.'s numerous modes, but also through feature spots from Nigerian MC Afrikan Boy and a crew of young Aborigine rappers. Roughly half the album -- including the opening three-track sequence, which incorporates Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner," samples from two Tamil-language film soundtracks, squawking chickens, (what sounds like) yelping children, and clustered rhythmic devices that boom, stab, clap, rattle, twitter, and sometimes even prance -- is more intense than anything on Arular. The tracks are so full of chaos and jagged noise that it is disarming to reach the relatively relaxed material, especially the two tracks that resemble actual songs. "Jimmy" is a rather faithful cover, willfully chintzy strings and all, of a flirtatiously lovelorn neo-disco number from the '80s Bollywood film Disco Dancer. "Paper Planes" has a sing-songy float to it, aided by the Clash's "Straight to Hell," though it also appropriates Wreckx-N-Effect's "Rump Shaker" while replacing "zoom-a-zoom-zoom-zoom" and "boom-boom" with sounds from shotguns and cash registers. Like the remainder of the album's best moments, it recalls the late Lizzy Mercier Descloux, another artist who made thrilling music by mixing cultures with respectful irreverence. Perhaps some of Arular's detractors knew M.I.A. was capable of this all along. ~ Andy Kellman