"Drunk Girls"

by LCD Soundsystem

"Born Free"

by M.I.A.

James Murphy and Maya Arulpragasam both record for major labels under pseudonyms (LCD Soundsystem and M.I.A., respectively), and both typify important strains of the "indie" mind-set. They're arty bohemians attracted to popular culture but not entirely trusting of it, dance producers who think like rock stars, with new albums coming out a month apart, and both have released polarizing new singles.

The argument over "Drunk Girls" is about whether Murphy has boiled his sound down entirely to surface tics in order to court a big, stupid audience or because he's a genius finally exploiting the populist-rock-guy side of his personality to the hilt. Me, I understand the latter argument while basically siding with the former. "Drunk Girls" deflated me the first time I heard it, which is the first time that's happened with LCD Soundsystem—usually their new tracks have either grown on me or just not budged my high opinion of the band, but they've never struck me as a step down before. Even as a fan of "North American Scum" and "Daft Punk Is Playing at My House," this is pretty flimsy. In Eminem terms, "Drunk Girls" sounds closer to "Just Lose It" than to "Without Me"—and even by "Without Me," Em was starting to sound pretty tired of himself.

Still, it'll be fascinating if Murphy pulls off breaking through to Middle America for real. Sure, there's still a mainstream, but there's less of a barrier to it than there once was for a performer like Murphy, and whether he's swallowed by it or rides it like a wave could be interesting to see.

By contrast, M.I.A.'s "Born Free" is a real gamble, unless you happen to live on the planet where it's considered obvious for an artist on the verge of global crossover to loop "Ghost Rider" by the early synth-punks Suicide. Here she is, married to the scion of a multinational corporation, and she makes what sounds like a Not Not Fun 7-inch—you've got to admit, that takes nerve. Especially since she explodes Martin Rev and Alan Vega's basic pulse with maniac drums and her own dub-echoing vocal: "I've got something to say," she taunts, eager to declaim over a proudly lo-fi din. Six years after "Galang" hit the blogs and she's still throwing down gauntlets. Nobody else in pop is anywhere near as vital. recommended