Mathangi 'Maya' Arulpragasam, better known as MIA, is a London-based artist of Sri Lankan origin. She first shot into the music scene in 2005 with her Mercury Music Prize-nominated album 'Arular'. An eclectic mixture of grime, hip-hop, electro and dancehall, with an overlying militant sentiment, it was an exciting and accomplished debut.
Her second album 'Kala' is primarily produced by edgy London producer Switch, aka Dave Taylor, which lends it an unpredictable air - it cannot be pinned down to one genre and draws from a horde of unusual sonic influences.
'Kala' opens assertively with 'Bamboo Banga', a Bollywood sampled track with a pleasingly minimal beat. When she sullenly MC's "MIA coming back with power, power” you sit up and pay attention.
The album's first single 'Boyz' is a catchy offering. Joyously raucous and with an insistent beat, it is charged with energy and utterly danceable. 'Jimmy', the second single, follows, and is the most conventional song on the album. Here she takes a break from rapping and tries out her vocal range. It has a distinctly Bollywood feel, with strings, jaunty guitar strumming and a disco beat.
'Mango Pickle Down Rover' with The Wilcannia Mob, an Aboriginal kids hip-hop group, is an utterly bemusing offering, but works nonetheless. A didgeridoo groans in the background as MIA exchanges raps with gravel voiced children.
'20 Dollar' is a woozy, synth-led song with strangely distorted vocals. It borrows the bass line from New Order's 'Blue Monday', and features lyrics from the chorus of The Pixies classic 'Where is My Mind?' It is a decidedly odd combination, but the soaring bass line pulls it together.
On the manic 'XR2' MIA drones, "Where were you in '92?" to the beat of handclaps and air horns. It is a song that gets old pretty quickly. Luckily it is followed by what is undeniably the album highlight, 'Paper Planes'. The most laidback, breezy track on the album, it is driven by the sample taken from The Clash's 'Straight to Hell'. The softness is counteracted by three gunshots that the chorus is based around, but it still is a soothing excerpt from a hyperactive album that can sometimes overwhelm.
But no new 'hip' album would be complete without a Timbaland production, and lastly we have bonus track 'Come Around'. It is a different sound to what we've come to expect from the pop maestro, a much more relaxed affair, but not as inventive as what came before.
MIA's defiant experimentation and commitment to not becoming another cookie-cutter pop star has shaped her new record. She sounds more fresh than ever, and on her song 'Hussel', which is an indictment of Western values, when she says, "I hate money 'cause it makes me numb" you are inclined to believe her, which makes her an exception to the vast majority of artists out there.