Like fellow producer Flying Lotus, Los Angeles-based DJ Diplo has developed two split music identities. As a solo producer, he is known for his acclaimed collaborative album with Brit-Indian rapper M.I.A. and as the mastermind behind Usher’s oozy hit “Climax.” As the co-producer behind the side project Major Lazer, he and former partner Switch have obtained much more unique and diverse music stylings, which helped create their jubilant 2009 debut Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do. Major Lazer’s sound incorporates Diplo’s repertoire of electronic house music with Jamaican dancehall and roots-reggage. Now a popular recording artist, Diplo has gained recognition from both his solo career and with Major Lazer. However, since his separation with Switch, Diplo has enlisted producers Jillionaire and Walshy Fire to co-produce Major Lazer songs and live performances. This year, the release of Major Lazer’s follow-up, Free The Universe, was highly anticipated, but incredibly delayed, which is unfortunate since it shows the discordance and disorganization of the electronic now-trio. What was essential for Free the Universe was not just the anticipation, but for it to be worthwhile.
Every song off of Free the Universe has at least more than three featured guests. They range from cohesive reggage artists and electro hip-hop singer Santigold to eye-rolling rappers and musicians, such as Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Ezra Koneig of Vampire Weekend. Though collaboration never hurt anyone, Major Lazer’s Free the Universe looks more desperate than promising to fill each song with diverse albeit random artists. Another disappointment is that there aren’t any real standout tracks, unlike the radio friendly “Pon De Floor,” the chaotic Spaghetti Western-themed “Hold the Line,” and the club friendly jam “Keep It Goin’ Louder” from Guns Don’t Kill People. The closest thing that comes to a standout track on Free the Universe is “Get Free,” a passionate, calypso-styled tune with a likable beat and Amber Coffman’s shrieking and bellowing vocals. It’s probably one of the only most “listenable” songs off of Free the Universe, considering that other tracks are predominantly underwhelming, such as the obnoxious “Bubble Butt,” the equally unpleasant “Jet Blue Jet,” and the mediocre “Reach for the Stars.” Another track with indifferent qualities is the Flux Pavilion collab “Jah No Partial,” which precariously blends heavy bass and dubstep with reggage and electro house to a mixed result.
The songs that come closest to the “standout track,” “Get Free,” are satisfactory but aren’t Guns Don’t Kill People material: The funky, Santigold-featured opener “You’re No Good,” has the potential to be as bewitching its Guns Don’t Kill People counterpart “Hold the Line,” but is missing the compelling musical and lyrical aspect; “Sweat,” Free the Universe‘s grooviest track, consists of funky key chinks, echoes of incomprehensible reggage singers, and a rapidly changing rhythm; and “Watch Out for This” is incredibly catchy, but again feeling like it’s missing the spark and silliness that made hits like “Pon De Floor.”
It’s hard to imagine the dismay Major Lazer fans must have felt, including me, when purchasing Free the Universe only to wish they had just listened to it on Spotify. Despite Major Lazer’s underwhelming second record, their recent ecstatic performance at Coachella might still bring hope for music listeners. But otherwise, Diplo has a lot of work to do before Major Lazer crashes and burns, leaving him wishing he hadn’t parted with Switch.
Suggested Tracks: “You’re No Good,” “Get Free,” “Watch Out for This,” “Sweat”