Major Lazer is one of the most polarizing/bizarre projects in music. Originally from the minds of L.A. producer Diplo and Jamaican DJ Switch, Major Lazer was designed as a dancehall/techno/hip-hop/indie rock side project for the two DJ’s. However, the project exploded in 2009 after the single “Hold The Line” was nominated for an MTV Video Music Award. This produced the first official Major Lazer album, Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do. Guns was a very confusing album. Throughout the whole album, it was hard to find exactly what music style the two were going for, and not doing very well at mixing together any of them.
Switch is now gone, leaving Diplo alone to make Major Lazer’s sophomore album. If this had been any other DJ, it would have been safe to say that Major Lazer was done. However, Diplo is not just any other DJ. No, this is the man who made “Paper Planes” a hit for M.I.A., and who is responsible for much of the recent production for Beyonce, Usher, and No Doubt, just to name a few. Diplo is a musical genius, so anticipation for the second Major Lazer album has been high.
Not helping anything was the release of the first single from the album, “Get Free”. Featuring Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors, the slow, relaxed, placid reggae beat that Coffman sang beautifully over was a shock for Major Lazer fans. Never had Diplo produced something so relaxed, so utterly devoid of the typical disc scratches and random yelling you usually expect from the producer. Major Lazer was meant to be a dancehall project anyways, and “Get Free” was certainly not something you wanted to dance to.
Well, don’t worry folks, “Get Free” was not an indication of the direction the album was going. While it remains an amazing track, and probably my favorite on the album, Free The Universe is still very much a dance album. However, the dancehall influences have decreased dramatically with the loss of Switch. While Free The Universe still clearly has Jamaican dancehall/reggae influences, Diplo has brought more of his EDM background to his follow-up. Luckily, most of these changes are for the best. “Jah No Partial” features the British dubstep group Flux Pavillion, and is one of the few dubstep songs I can truly listen to. “Jet Blue Jet” is dancehall envisioned through EDM music, and leads to a crazy assault from all sides. “Keep Cool” begins as a very standard EDM song, until Shaggy comes in out of nowhere and turns the whole thing into a Jamaican party.
What is more surprising about Free The Universe is Diplo’s continued use of hip-hop beats throughout the album, with mixed results. The first track off the album, “You’re No Good”, takes the best parts of Major Lazer’s first album and mixes it into one song. However, there is also “Bubble Butt”. For my money, “Bubble Butt” has a serious run for being one of the worst songs released this year, mostly due to an insistence of using the chorus “Bubb-Bubb-Bubb-Bubb-Bubble Butt”. Big Sean also drops one of the worst verses I’ve heard from him in a while. And to make things even weirder, Bruno Mars whisper raps one of the most uncomfortable verses I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.
Luckily, misses like this are few. That being said, Free The Universe is an exploratory album. Diplo changes up sounds often on this album, even when he’s found one that works well. Sure, if he had stuck to the sound he uses in “Get Free” or “Jessica” (a great track featuring Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend), he would have made a much more consistent album. But then we would not have had such great experiments as “Keep Cool” or “Mashup the Dance”. Free the Universe is not for the faint of heart, but for those who don’t mind a little weirdness, it is a must-listen.