Thursday, April 18, 2013

Major Lazer: Free The Universe

Okay, the afternoon is beginning to disappear and all I've done is clean the living room and start dough for carrot dinner rolls (an experiment, could be terrible) instead of an album review.  So I'd better reorganize my priorities and get started, eh?

First things first: I was super excited to see this new Major Lazer release, and not just because I'm actually familiar with the OTHER Major Lazer release, 2009's Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do (although, let's be honest - given how many albums I listen to without any familiarity with the artist's past work, it's a treat to know what the hell I'm talking about for once).  But Major Lazer is also kinda just a neat group, producing mostly Jamaican-recorded music (I'm getting that from this article on Société Perrier) that's kind of a mash-up of dancehall, hiphop, reggae, and whatever else falls under that general umbrella.  And JESUS CHRIST right now the baby is riding a car track thing around the house like a horse while my three-year-old calls him "daddy" and I am having trouble thinking about what else I want to say.  Uh... for one thing, it looks like there's been a change in line-up since the last album came out: the group was formerly composed of American DJ/producer Diplo and British DJ/Producer Switch, and has now whittled down to just Diplo, although the Major Lazer character has remained the same (he's a "zombie-killing commando from Jamaica with a laser for a hand and rocket-powered skateboard", according to an old interview with Switch on The Vine).  And for another, I just learned the term "daggering" and wish it never happened.  The end.  Of this section.

So now let's discuss the album itself - and before I get to the opinion part, let's just talk about the facts.  This record is, like the last one, a heaping spoonful of dancehall rhythms and slow-wind beats, and it's also, once again, chock-full of superstar and smallstar guests (Bruno Mars, Santigold, Wyclef Jean, and Tyga, to name a few).  That's where the two records start to diverge, however, since while I felt that the first Major Lazer release hinted at but contained its predilection towards the cerebral, this album embraces it full-force.  Or in other words, my first impression of this record was that it sounds overthought and underfun, with few exceptions.  Of course, in the spirit of giving, I've picked a few songs to talk about anyway, such as first track "You're No Good" featuring Santigold, Vybz Kartel, Danielle Haim & Yasmin, which gets the album going with dark-alley ambiance and Santigold's ethereal vocals ("You're no good for me/But the way you move it/Knocked me off my feet") before gunshots introduce a deep beat and Kartel & the gang.  Then there's also "Wind Up" featuring Elephant Man & Opal, which employs a skittering woodpecker of a percussive beat until the bare-bones dancehall drops ("Every girl find a man go wind up on").  And the best track on the thing is almost certainly "Scare Me" featuring Peaches & Timberlee, which starts with a blinking synth beat over a bong-water background and then transitions into a purring beat and naughty raps ("Feel your Wiki leak/I can feel your Wiki leak").

And now I have to be frank and admit that I'm still not exactly sure how I feel about the album - on my first listen, after all, my opinion was that it sounded like a dancehall set by an adequate but unremarkable DJ, as heard from the next room.  Luckily, my second listen was a definite improvement, with many of the stilted sections blending better with familiarity, something that gave me hope that the record might actually become quite good with time.  But that's also the problem - first of all, I don't have the time to spend figuring it out, and second of all, either way I'm positive that this album is a product of intellect rather than emotion.  And while intellect is great when you're solving difficult math problems or assembling children's furniture, I like it far less in music, especially if the genre's got "dance" in the title.  Basically, I'd listen to the first Major Lazer release in a heartbeat before listening to this again.  And that makes me almost as sad as what the baby's fake pony is doing to our wood floor.


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