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Track Review: M.I.A.‘s "Born Free"

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Track Review: M.I.A.‘s “Born Free”

Listen, M.I.A. has never been anything but a one-woman riot, but on her recently leaked new track “Born Free,” she sounds more like one than usual. It’s as though she stripped away every bit of the breezy swagger that made “Paper Planes” her crossover calling card, and instead allowed the gun-toting rebel protagonist of that song to stand fiercely front and center, daring Top 40 radio to co-opt her again. Because when M.I.A breaks through the borders (of your country, your scene), she’s not coming to incite some cosmopolitan liberal love-down—she just wants to get up in your face.

Or as she puts it here: “I’ll throw this shit in your face when I see you/’Cause I’ve got something to say!” That’s the kind of verse that M.I.A. drops on “Born Free,” and she slings those slogans over a chugging lo-fi nightmare that sounds like a mashup of claustrophobic Krautrock and West Coast hardcore. But what initially comes off as a yet another feat of impeccably hip globe-skipping pilferage turns out to be (only!) a stroke-of-genius sample: As many perceptive fans have already noted, the punishing guitars and drums on “Born Free” come courtesy of New York avant freaks Suicide. The tune is “Ghost Rider,” which has surfaced, in recent years, as a live staple for the Horrors and a set piece on HBO’s Entourage.

Nosier by far than anything on Kala or Arular, much of “Born Free”—from the acidic production to the way the vocals hover uneasily over their ear-splitting backdrops—recalls the dance/noise provocateurs in Sleigh Bells. Of course, it was signing on to M.I.A.’s N.E.E.T. imprint that gave that act their most recent buzz boost. There’s no word on whether “Born Free” will show up on M.I.A.’s upcoming album, but word is that most of the record won’t explore this kind of sound. Even so, it’s a hell of a one-off, and it should pique expectations for the new record simply by proving that M.I.A.’s bag of studio tricks is as inexhaustible as her attitude.