M.I.A. “Kala”

October 25, 2007


Maybe I’m a little slow to jump on the wagon with this one, but what else can I say? I guess I’m not as up to beat on the next Sri Lankan hip hop star as some other people.

Already praised by the likes of Missy Elliott and Björk, M.I.A. has hit the American music scene with her sophomore album Kala. Described as “shapes, colours, Africa, street, power, bitch, nu world, and brave” by M.I.A. (Mathangi Arulpragasam by birth) herself. A catchy blend of ethnic hip hop, electronic rhythms, and entertainingly political lyrics (for example, MTV denied airplay for her song “Sunshowers” off of her debut album Arular because of the lyrics “Like PLO [Palestine Liberation Organization], I don’t surrendo,”) M.I.A. is a breath of fresh air in the hip hop scene.

Variety is what keeps the energy alive on this album. “Bamboo Banga” opens up the album with infectious tribal drumming and the lovably egotistical “I’m big timer, it’s the bamboo banga.” A couple tracks later, M.I.A. pulls us into the scene of what I can only think to describe as Bollywood disco with “Jimmy.” Whether it’s a matter of musical ingenuity or artist’s block, “$20” is a blatant rip-off of New Order’s “Blue Monday” and the Pixie’s “Where Is My Mind?” Now, that’s not to say that the lyrics aren’t bizarrely unique and politically motivated; “Like do you know that cost of A.K.’s up in Africa? Twenty dollars ain’t shit to you, but that’s how much they are.” But wait, there’s still more. There’s “Paper Planes” which touches on subjects such as murder, robbery, and making paper planes all to a sample of the Clash’s “Straight to Hell.” As if that weren’t enough, I’ve got one more thing that will probably grab your attention… the final track features none other than Timbaland himself.


Akron Family - Love is Simple

I think I was a little bit disappointed when I first listened to Akron/Family’s newest LP Love is Simple. I don’t know what it was, but it was lacking something. It had the sincerity, the compassion, and above all the not-so-simple simplicity of their previous albums, so what was it that I wasn’t feeling? Well after giving it a couple more listens, I think I’ve pinpointed the problem. The album wasn’t lacking anything, it was the mindset I was lacking. My mind was congested, I was preoccupied, and I was missing the point: love really is simple, and that’s basically all you need to know to fully appreciate this album.

This album is Akron/Family at their best, and I don’t think anybody would disagree with that. The heart-felt folk songs (“Love, Love, Love (Everyone)”) and experimental ethnic-influenced chants (“Lake Song/New Ceremonial Music for Moms”) are really what this album, if not Akron/Family in general, is all about. Bringing people together. With intricate tribal-like drumming, offbeat clapping and chanting, and electrifying experimentation in guitars and other gizmos and gadgets, it doesn’t take long for this album to break down the walls of reality and pull you right into the music itself.

Along with “Lake Song,” “There’s So Many Colors” really moves this album along into a different territory. A haunting blues riff carries us from the surreal Akron tribal chanting to a 60’s rock masterpiece. The album is topped off with the “Love, Love, Love 2 (Reprise)” picking right up where it left off with the intro track, “Go out and love, love, love, everyone” reminding us that unlike Love is Simple, love really is just that simple.


When I woke up on September 28, I felt like there was something wrong. I had the overbearing feeling that something was to occur that day that could possibly bring an onslaught of demons, volcanic eruptions, and ultimately Armageddon. As I came to learn, this was the release date of High on Fire’s fourth full-length album, Death Is This Communion. I think I was pretty damned close.

Stoner rock band the Melvins have probably earned the title of the most influential metal band of the past couple decades. After twenty-two years (and about just as many albums,) the Melvins have produced an inordinate amount of offspring. One of the Melvin’s precious offspring is none other than High on Fire, a vicious stoner rock band born in 1999. Including members ex-Melvins bassist Joe Preston and ex-Sleep guitarist Matt Pike, this is almost a sure-fire combination for some abrasive, high-tempo sludge rock. I’m fairly disappointed I didn’t catch up with the band sooner. Already with four LPs and a couple of EPs, it took me up until their most recent (2007’s Death Is This Communion) before even giving them a listen.

Immediately, beginning with “Fury Whip,” High on Fire lays on the guitar riffs and vocals so heavy that you’ll need a rescue team to help you dig yourself out. Despite the growls of Preston and the fatal drumming of Des Kensel, melody is still evident in every song. “Waste of Tiamat” and “Cyclopian Scape” both begin with a haunting acoustic steel guitar, giving you just enough time to catch your breath before kicking into yet another thrashing doom anthem. Percussion isn’t the only deadly part of this album. After Preston’s growl of “This evil never sleeps!” on “Rumors of War,” he immediately cranks out a mind-blowing guitar solo liable to rip the face off of anyone within a five foot radius.

On that note, I feel obliged to warn everyone to wear proper protection before sliding this disc into your car stereo.

Devendra Banhart - Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon

He’s done it again. Two years since his groundbreaking album Cripple Crow, Devendra Banhart has once again packed our bags and taken us on a musical journey he calls Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. The problem is this time, he forget to give us a map. Now don’t get me wrong, Banhart’s perpetual creativity and skill is to be envied. Not to mention his cultural influences which give him quite a few steps above his fellow “freak-folkists”. Packed with gems “Samba Vexillographica,” “Seahorse,” “Bad Girl,” “Tonada Yanomaminista,” etc., this could easily be Banhart’s most accessible album. But give each song a listen on it’s own and one would never suspect that these songs sit side by side on an album as a whole. Despite using plenty of Banhart-esque ingredients, his mixture of influences ranging from all over the musical spectrum cooked up into one slightly unappetizing entrée.

Despite the slight musical inconsistency overall, there was definitely no flaw in his ability to continue writing mind blowing pieces, such as Smokey’s eight-minute-centerpiece, “Seahorse.” The piece begins as a lazy folk ballad with almost uninspired lyrics (“so I leave my possessions to the wind, and I’m done with ever wanting anything”) before kicking into a fast-tempo progressive rock masterpiece, hinting at Brubeck’s “Take Five.” Pieced together with Banhart’s emotional lyricism, guitarist Noah Georgeson’s enticing riffs definitely lead the song along a path of hand-clapping and body-shaking.

Immediately after, the album takes a turn for the serene with “Bad Girl.” Carrying on the slightly pessimistic tone set by the beginning of the album, “Bad Girl” is characterized by the hypnotic cries of Banhart’s “wah wah wah wah’s” as well as the mimicked (yet just as emotional) “wah wah’s” of the slide guitar.

After witnessing the incredible workmanship and diversity, Banhart subjects us to “Shabop Shalom.” In an almost mocking tone, Smokey’s “Shabop Shalom” is Banhart’s Jewish take on 50’s style doo-wop love ballads. Littered with embarrassing couplets and complete with slightly comedic opening narrative (“Her walk was soft and delicate, with a thaumaturgical touch that only a Rabbi’s daughter could have”), the song takes away from the theme and mood of the rest of the album, as does “Saved,” the gospel-anthem complete with backing choir and Hammond-style church organ.

Despite the mellow nature of a few of the tracks (“Freely,” “Seaside,” “I Remember,” “My Dearest Friend”), Banhart still lives up to his reputation with a shocking and commanding stage presence. Along with Spiritual Bonerz (silent “z”), Devendra and friends are truly pioneering their performances on as well as off the stage.

Smokey’s exhausting stylistic elements only touch upon the different abilities of Devendra Banhart, both the good and the bad. Still one of the most ambitious and captivating albums of 2007, Banhart needs to sit down before his next album and decide which face of Devendra it is that he’ll be wearing next.

Devendra Banhart – “Seahorse”