BY SARA SHERR As you’ve no doubt read in a million and one places already, M.I.A. was set to make her sophomore effort, Kala, with Timbaland, but then visa troubles (her father being a Tamil Tiger can’t help) kept her from working in the U.S. So she traveled the world, collecting beats, textures, and sounds. Unlike most of the acts that garner a lot of blogger hype and print-crit “me too”-ing, M.I.A. is truly worthy of your time and effort. No other record that comes out this year will sound like this. Here’s my first-thought/best-thought on each track as I heard ’em for the first time — with the exception of “Bamboo Banger.” It got stuck in the Phawker Radio thingee and by the time I got the end I thought “Bird Flu” was a better way to start the album anyway. You’re welcome, M.I.A.!
“Bird Flu” – You get the feeling that M.I.A. sees Bird Flu as chickens of Third World neglect coming home to roost in the gaping divide between the haves and the havenots. With the machine gun drums, this sounds like a slowed down “C30 C60 C90 Go” with tablas. May all our fowl-born plagues have such an awesome beat.
“Boys” ? Like that great Bollywood flick I wish they would have shown on WYBE on any given bored and latently horny Saturday afternoon of my post-pubescence that I spent stranded in the decidedly non-exotic Northeast. You know the one’s where kohl-eyed women dance in the streets wearing a Technicolor wardrobe and all the guys have pearly white smiles and absolutely zero chest hair. But they never did.
“Paper Planes” ? Faintly menacing slow jam with a candy-coated kids chorus disconcertingly punctuated by gun fire and cash registers. Call it thetravelin ‘ visa post 9/11 blues. “I got more records than the KGB, so no funny business,” warns M.I. A. near the end, though it’s unclear if she’s warning herself or her inquisitors. Either way, I can’t get it out of my head. Seriously.
“Jimmy” ? Really good Bollywood disco Eurotrash. Even better than Madge’s Bollywood disco Eurotrash.
“Hussel” ? There’s those drums again. I picture M.I.A. riding an elephant, swords drawn. Ready to do the Hasan chop on the tyranny of evil men. Or burning up the streets of Mumbai atop a turquoise Vespa, middle finger out. But with really cool shades. And I mean really.
“Mango Pickle Down River” ? Pass the Dutchie the to the left hand side and don’t Bogart it, boychik! Shit, I don’t know what was in that Dutchie but these guest MCs sound like they are about 10 years old. What does ‘Play some D’ Mean? Anybody?
“$20” ? A dense electro-dub hall of mirrors where nothing turns itself inside out and it sounds just like the verse to the Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” recited thru a vocoder. Because it is.
“Down River”- This is more like it. Lil Mama’s playground beats and loading guns collide with soaring Middle Eastern reeds that make like Bomb Squad sirens. “Hands up, guns out!”
“The Turn” ? Cooing, plaintive vocals get bolstered by beats that could be from Bombay or Brazil.
“XR2” ? “Where were you in ’92?” is the funkiest interrogation you’ll hear all year.
“Come Around” ? A duet with Timbaland that sounds both ominous and sexy, the intercontinental counterpart to The Roots’ “You Got Me.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: Sara Sherr’s Phawker essay on the last days of Tower Records, I AM SORRY BUT WE WILL NEVER HAVE ‘NICE MUSIC’ AGAIN has been selected for honorable mention in Da Capo Press’ Best Of Music Writing 2007 anthology. We could not be more proud or horny.