Launched as an electro-dancehall act fronted by a fictional Jamaican comic book character who comes from outer space, no one should have expected that Diplo's Major Lazer project could grow and expand artistically. Still, this third album surprises with its weight and, more than anything, subtlety as three of the best numbers are ballads. Best of these slow burners is the big hit "Lean On," where vocalist MØ and guest producer DJ Snake help deliver the sentimental lyrics and sensual house music at an intoxicating half-speed tempo.
Back before Skrillex and Avicii were even glints in the god of obnoxious dance music’s eye, Diplo’s Major Lazer was running rampant, in all its muscular neon glory. Their own beats and riffs were practically tradable currency and the outrageous partying style barely hid a very talented puppet master cherry-picking from lesser explored genres. This is what Diplo, Major Lazer’s beating creative heart, does - whether you like it or not.
Major Lazer's image has always been a bit slippery. Having gone through a number of member and affiliate changes since UK producer Switch—one half of the founding production team, along with Diplo—jumped ship in 2011, their ever-evolving mission has been confusing, sloppy, and not entirely easy to nail down. Their debut album Guns Don't Kill People...
Music that doesn’t have its roots firmly planted in the United States has invaded the blogosphere and eked into the mainstream more or less over the past year. The hype surrounding Future Brown’s self-titled debut album, the seemingly inevitable emergence of grime music as a companion to American hip-hop, the European-tinged EDM pop that’s become a must-have for any artist looking to break into the upper tier on the charts. The melting pot formula is finally working for casual radio listeners and tastemakers alike, and for Diplo, the latest in pop’s definitions comes both a decade too late and just in time for his newest Major Lazer offering, Peace Is the Mission.
Diplo has spent the past few years as the guy Madonna, Beyoncé and Justin Bieber dial up when they want their hits to have a little next-level studio science. But it's his electro-reggae project Major Lazer that really lets him unleash his inner beat freak. The crew's third album is an international genre-melting party, with special emphasis on bass-heavy dancehall fire.
The musical snob in all of us really wants to reject Diplo's third Major Lazer album, Peace Is the Mission, as obvious, party fodder that panders to the lowest common denominator. But that's exactly what makes Peace Is the Mission so great. Major Lazer is Diplo's conduit to Jamaican dancehall and its cousin moombahton, both so close to his heart, to the masses.
An animated act in every sense of the word, the entity known as Major Lazer have had an interesting pathway to success. Originally a team-up between Diplo and Switch, it's become the Diplo & Friends show, guest starring Walshy Fire and Jillionaire. The diasporic dabbling inherent to this eccentric enterprise — blending EDM elements with reggae, soca, hip-hop and world — has been consistently successful on a commercial level, and intermittently on an artistic one.
Coherence has never been the guiding principle for this trio led by gallivanting DJ-producer Diplo. They take dancehall and other Caribbean party styles and subject them to rampant globalisation. Still, in comparison with their last album – a forgettable hotchpotch involving guests as diverse as Shaggy, Bruno Mars and a member of Dirty Projectors – this third outing seems almost laser-like in its focus.
You likely aren’t approaching a Major Lazer record looking for substance — the experience is about shirtless electronic music by way of the islands — but the group’s new album, Peace Is the Mission, lacks much of even that. Though 2013’s Free the Universe stretched the message so thin it ripped holes in their narrative (the stain from Wyclef Jean’s cheery “Reach For the Stars” won’t ever come out), it at least delivered on the Diplo-led collective’s early promise of Big Dumb Bangers With Character. The crew’s new one just doesn’t gel: It jumps from instrumental thump’n’b bore “Roll the Bass” to the plinking hip-hop posse cut “Night Riders” to what should’ve been a solo Ariana Grande joint, “All My Love,” which instead adds Michael Montano’s vocoded shouting because Diplo thinks that volume = quality.
Diplo’s Major Lazer project is at turns tender and raw in its attempts to draw Caribbean music once more back into the mainstream; their manically pitch-bent modern classic, Pon De Floor, from 2009 debut album Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers do, in particular demolished everything in its path. The line-up has changed since then, though, and, as with most current pop and dancehall, everything is slathered in a variety of horribly oily vocal effects, in an apparent last dash for the charts. This seems to have worked, the Smurfs-like hiccupping on moombahton-influenced single Lean On aiding it to international smash status.
What began as a sexy, fun-filled splicing of genres under the identity of a cartoon military general has, by this third instalment, lost most of its charm. The idea behind Major Lazer, the brainchild of US producer Diplo, was to bring American stars to Jamaica, where they would get in a studio with local talent, consume local produce and create a fusion of reggae and electronic styles. The first album, Guns Don’t Kill People … Lazers Do, not only held good on the promise but also displayed a quirky sense of humour and produced stompers such as Hold the Line and Pon de Floor.
Major Lazer: Diplo, from left, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire. Major Lazer: Diplo, from left, Walshy Fire and Jillionaire. After enduring the dullest tracks on Major Lazer's new album, "Peace Is the Mission," it's sometimes tough to remember that there was a time when its founder, superstar producer Diplo, was awesome. As a rising tastemaker in the early '00s with deep crates and great taste, the artist born Wesley Pentz made his name on the East Coast when his Hollertronix parties soundtracked a buzzing New York musical revival.
Though the drops are ornate as ever on Peace is the Mission, the new album from Diplo’s Major Lazer; the featured guests are as talented; the dancehall influence as prominent—it’s hard to detail just how many gallons of creative fluids are lacking. Major Lazer was originally a duo of hooligans, Diplo and Switch, who once chose the statement Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do to best define and summarize their first album. This new third album of theirs (now replacing Switch with various, lesser-known international DJs) is part of a two-record release.
Major Lazer first burst on the scene with 2009's Guns Don't Kill People… Lazers Do, a playfully cartoonish vehicle for Diplo and Switch to collaborate with Jamaican dancehall reggae vocalists on futuristic electronic reworkings of tropical rhythms. Partway through their second album, Free The Universe, Switch left the group but still shared a writing credit on most of the best songs. Diplo has since enlisted a revolving door of all-star collaborators to keep the project going, but unfortunately Peace Is The Mission has few traces of that original magic.