Music reviews: M.I.A; Athlete; Super Furry Animals

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The Independent Online

M.I.A

Kala (XL Recordings)

Out now

M.I.A's new album made me want to do crazy things. While I was listening to "Bird Flu", I was overcome by a sudden urge to strip down to my waist, cover myself in body paint and leap over a fire. Lead single "Jimmy" makes you feel as if you're in your own Bollywood movie, whilst "Mango Pickle Down River" features not only a didgeridoo but a bunch of aboriginal kids rapping over the top of it.

This record is extremely impressive; if nothing else it's the best party album in recent memory. Trying to define Kala's sound is tricky: dance music doesn't really do it justice and to call it world music would be a bit of a stretch. So, we'll call it a thoroughly enjoyable cocktail of the two.

Best of all is "Paper Planes": it's propelled by a hypnotic melody, while its gunshot and cash register percussion in the chorus amply demonstrates why M.I.A is in a league of her own. This is one of the best records of 2007.

Dominic Horner

ATHLETE

Beyond the Neighbourhood (Parlophone)

Out now

They say you can't judge a book by its cover: rubbish. The front cover of a novel - or in this case an LP - is intended to give the reader or listener a rough idea of what's within. So, glancing at the abstract mishmash of coloured prisms on the sleeve of Athlete's latest release, you might be forgiven for thinking that Beyond the Neighbourhood is going to turn out to be some sort of post-rock instrumental suite. You'd be wrong.

It's possible that Athlete harbour such aspirations, but they're basically just Keane with bleeping noises. With it's bouncing synthesisers and twinkling guitars, the instrumental opener "In Between 2 States" bodes well for the rest of the album; alas, much of it turns out to be fairly pedestrian. Some of the lyrics are refreshingly down to earth, especially the "I'm away with the fairies" refrain from "The Outsiders". However, on tracks such as "Airport Disco", "Flying Over Bus Stops" and "Second Hand Stores", Athlete plod where they should soar. So much for art, but at least it's nice to listen to before you go to bed.

DH

SUPER FURRY ANIMALS

Hey Venus! (Rough Trade)

Out now

"This song is based on a true story, which would be fine if it wasn't autobiographical," Gruff Rhys trills at the beginning of second track "Run-Away". Speaking for the album as a whole, autobiographical or not, it's not just fine - it's brilliant.

According to the press release, this is a concept album based around a young woman who moves to the city, briefly becomes a TV star, then a stripper, before finding love and salvation. That passed me by, but what I did pick up on were some wonderful and inventive tunes. "The Consumer" begins with the glorious refrain: "Ah, oh, oh, oh, ah, oh, oh, ah, oh". "Carbon Dating" starts like it's in the middle of a funfair, before progressing to what sounds like a cavernous ballroom filled with abandoned Star Wars spaceships. That's not to mention what can only be described as a fart noise in "Battersey Odyssey"; I'd rather not know what type of instrument produced it. Whatever it was though, SFA come up smelling of roses.

Dan Poole

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