Friday, August 24, 2007

Kala's Challenging Eardrum

Here are three albums that will most likely make my year end best list for vastly different reasons.

M.I.A. – Kala (buy)

Although I enjoyed M.I.A’s debut album, Arula (buy), the glow wore off after several listens. Yet the exact opposite happened with her latest effort, Kala. While a few tracks stood out immediately, like the insanely catchy single “Boyz” (previously posted), the album itself needs to be digested a few times before its true beauty appears. This is mainly due to the fact that Kala has no aspirations for commercial appeal. Despite the presence of Timbaland on one song, the album is not designed for the casual listener. M.I.A. really demands your full attention. Kala is a mixture of biting observations on world politics, homage to her Sri Lankan heritage, and floor pulsing dance beats. Although her message is strong, I never really found M.I.A. to be the best rapper. Luckily the production makes up for her shortcomings. “Boyz” and Timbaland’s track will probably get the most notice; the standout tracks for me were the darkly dreamy “Paper Planes” and the African influences “Hussel”. Similar to a Bjork album, Kala is bound to receive praise from some listeners and infuriate just as many others. Regardless I say it is worth giving (several) listens to.

M.I.A.- Paper Planes (buy)
M.I.A.- Come Around (ft. Timbaland) (buy)

Video: M.I.A. – Jimmy (buy). While I love that she is paying respect to Bollywood, I’m still on the fence about the video.

Talib Kweli – Eardrum (buy)

Unlike M.I.A., you get the sense that Talib Kweli is aiming to finally get that commercial success that has allude him for so long. Not that it’s a bad thing, especially since Kweli sticks to doing what he does best. Delivering fierce lyrics that will have you thinking about more important then rims and cash. The difference is this time he has an all-star lineup of talent (e.g. Norah Jones, KRS-One, Justin Timberlake, Kanye West, etc…) helping him out. To be honest I hope this album reaches a mainstream level of success. I really think it is one of the best rap albums to drop this year. On Eardrum, Talib tackles such topics as love, religion, politics, urban ignorance, and an overall need for change. Despite the subject matter, Talib never preaches or talks down to his audience. To be honest; this is on of the few albums where there was not a single track that I didn’t like. Everyone seems to talking about the publicity stunt…err I mean feud between Kayne and 50 Cent these days. Which is a shame because albums like Eardrum really deserves more press. Rap albums this good do not come around too often.

Talib Kweli - Hostile Gospel pt.1 (buy)
Talib Kweli - Soon The New Day (ft. Norah Jones) (buy)

Video: Talib Kweli – More or Less (buy). Not the best video but the song is great!

The New Pornographers – Challengers (buy)

It has been interesting seeing how the latest album from The New Pornographers has divided the critics. The biggest complaint most people seem to have is that it is not the same “upbeat power pop” that the band has delivered in the past. Which is funny considering those same critics use to criticize the band for being too upbeat. Yes, Challengers is a more adult sounding album but I think the change is actually I good thing. While there are still a few upbeat poppy songs, such as the standout “Myriad Harbour” (previously posted), but it is the new softer sound that surprising lends the album to repeat listens. It also forces everyone in the band to raise the bar as the intricacies of each song are now thrown to the forefront. As with previous albums Carl Newman, Neko Case and Dan Bejar (Destroyer) each have their moments singing lead, which gives the band its trademark sound. Similar to M.I.A.’s Kala, this album will be a slow burner for many. It will take several listens before it really sinks in. Once it does, the songs will stick in your head for days. Yes, the album is a departure from their usual fair, but the result is far better than the critics would have you believe.

The New Pornographers - Challengers (buy)
The New Pornographers – Entering White Cecilia (buy)

Video: The New Pornographers – My Rights Versus Yours (buy). The band performed (a tad nervously) on The Late Show with David Letterman earlier this week.

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