M.I.A.: Kala

Kala is such a resolutely strange, sweltering album that it's thrilling to be alive in an era when such a thing can lay claim to the mantle of "pop." It's hard to verify that the opener, "Bamboo Banga," has even started until two minutes in, when it enlists woozy bass and a warped Bollywood chorus in a mix that already includes lispy allusions to The Modern Lovers' canonical rock song "Roadrunner," plus comely scat-rapping by a woman who sounds like she hardly cares who recognizes her magnificent album for what it is.

It's the sort of snappy, delirious swirl that M.I.A. commandeered on her epochal 2005 album Arular, but Kala wanders considerably farther out—to a worldly realm where party albums double as progressive strikes. The production jumps between an improbable outgrowth of aural lily pads (seeded by hip-hop, jungle, new wave, bhangra), and it invariably comes down with one foot dangling suggestively enough to make the leap as significant as the landing. The sound and chaotic vocalizing prove sketchy to the end, but M.I.A. announces herself as a serious artist who's wise to the push-pull ways of pop seduction.

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