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3 Stars

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & ll the chatter over M.I.A.'s major-label debut -- and there's considerable chatter -- lauds her for being this great hero to both dancehall kids and hipsters. Despite a distro deal with Universal, she hasn't compromised herself. Indeed, she's made a less accessible album than her first. The sheer grit of this London-raised Tamil cub, people squeal.

Except the music's not any better. Her first album, Arular, which caught the world unaware, was similarly brilliant at catching the individual listener off-guard. Danceable, candied reggaeton beats were the carrier for a seriously militant, sexy, feminist world view, creating an easy album with surprising depth -- one of the best of our aging decade.

Kala, in contrast, ramps up the musical inscrutability -- it's nowhere near as accessible or ass-shakable. Simultaneously, she's toned down her politics. The effect is opposite of Arular. Kala is a more difficult album with less payoff.




In Our Bedroom After the War

3 Stars

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & f love has been, currently is, and always will be war, Canadian indie-poppers Stars have dedicated their latest album of shimmering sweetness to the subject. While the ultra-clean production tends to mask the lyrical trauma, it's to the listener's advantage. "Barricade" showcases the album's characteristic suffering with singer-keyboardist Torquil Campbell winsomely emoting, "How could anyone not love the terrible things you do?" Singer-guitarist Amy Millan doesn't make listening any more comfortable, but that remains a good thing. The giddy poppiness of "Bitches in Tokyo" is reminiscent of Asobi Seksu, but the whimsy ends there.

The emotional pain here creates vivid imagery, whether wrapped in unaccompanied piano or shimmering guitar. But it is no surprise. Campbell and Millan are also Broken Social Scene-sters -- same stars, markedly different energy. And once the autumn rains begin, In Our Bedroom will be an essential accompaniment to the season's dreariness.


DOWNLOAD: "Take Me to the Riot"
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