Some thought M.I.A.’s last installment, ///Y/, was a complete and utter failure (we did…). Others weren’t so harsh (Stereogum’s Brandon Stosuy made a particularly compelling argument about why it wasn’t all that bad). But no matter your opinion of ///Y/, we can all agree that M.I.A. had a rough year in 2010. From a seemingly endless slew of bad reviews, a virtual fistfight with The New York Times, and a largely unsuccessful world tour (considering where she should be in her career), it just seemed like she was caught on the ropes, struggling to make any headway.
I don’t think any of this was lost on Maya Arulpragasm (see: her perpetually frustrated Twitter account), so it seems she made a bit of a new year’s resolution. Enter: Vicki Leekx, M.I.A.’s first official mixtape since 2004. What better way to ensure that you have a better year than releasing a no-strings-attached compilation of music that is largely unrelated to your previous effort?
In theory, it could have backfired, placing M.I.A. deeper in the rut in which she’s currently stuck. But it didn’t. That’s not to say that we have another Kala on our hands, but this is certainly a step forward.
One of the most common complaints among critics concerning ///Y/ was that it lacked authenticity. Arulpragasm is a Sri Lankan-born, UK native with a keen, avant-garde eye for fashion and a tender heart for her homeland and the third world problems they’ve experienced. That’s what made her debut album, Arular, such a triumph. It came from a very genuine place, discussing issues of guerilla warfare, poverty, and revolutionary ideals, all amidst a slew of catchy, Diplo-sponsored beats. It was a completely fresh look at that corner of the world set in that particular vein of music. The follow-up, Kala, was another honest look at her odd combination of Sri Lankan and British culture, only this time, she was more practiced, and the album came out a bit more polished. Both were shining successes, so the bar for her third full-length was set fairly high.
Unfortunately, she fell short of the mark. ///Y/ was missing much of the Sri Lankan sympathy that she’d displayed in years past. The album on the whole was largely more geared toward her distaste for technology, almost to the point of conspiracy theorism. Between Kala and ///Y/, she seemed to have lost a decent portion of her endearing spirit.
Fortunately, it seems as though she’s found a bit of that spirit, and she has begun to convey it on Vicki Leekx. The mixtape is a seamless 36 minutes of eclectic M.I.A. that may just satiate the thirst everyone had for some authenticity in her work. Backed by production by Diplo, Switch, Rusko, and Blaqstarr, the heavy hitters are still behind Maya. However, there isn’t one, singular track that’s going to tickle your fancy as a club hit. But it is irrefutable proof that M.I.A.’s looking to land on her feet after the fall that was ///Y/.
This isn’t a mixtape that you’re going to be bumping in your crib for months to come, but it is one that is contextually very important to her career. It warrants at least one listen for that reason alone (plus it’s 100% free here). Will she be making a comeback in 2011? Who knows? But Vicki Leekx is encouraging, to say the least.