Major Lazer

Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do

(Downtown/Mad Decent; 2009)

By Colin McGowan | 3 July 2009

I’m still ambivalent on most anything Diplo and his mates (in the case of Major Lazer, Switch) produce. A lot of it grates, Brillo pad dynamics frequently encouraging anyone within earshot to create some friction of their own, and as someone who occasionally sinks into the gnarled beyond of noise rock binges, the idea of transmuting raw abrasion into something that moves asses is intriguing to me. More interesting still—something that appeals to my hip-hop sensibilities—is the utilization of music foreign to many American ears in the synthesis of this globally-minded club shit, extending the record bin beyond dusty soul and old school to drum-centric African music and UK grime. Of course, that’s the earnest, wide-eyed take on artists such as Diplo and philosophies such as Spank Rock’s, the more cynical analysis providing harsh terminology like “poaching” and “culture theft.” All of this seems to me like horribly misplaced anger—as Pfizer rapes Africa and the Cuban embargo persists, we’re still trying to figure out if Graceland (1986) was copacetic.

If it makes the shouters feel any better, the two white guys making this record have the backing of some of Jamaica’s premier dancehall artists, many of whom guest. So, with bluster and outrage addressed, we’re left with an ambitious genre exercise that alternates between mildly enticing floor fodder and flatly annoying schlock. If Diplo and Switch were aiming for grand, rippling thump, they’ve achieved it, but, in turn, their minimal beats lean on that clatter too heavily and the duo responds by tossing in annoying vocal drops and arbitrary beat switch-ups that add nothing to the mix. The weight intended to propel these tracks sags pathetically like a mid-forties waistline.

On one end of the spectrum, “Bruk Out” plods along promisingly; rudimentary as it is, the old crutch of flashy electronic accents and warped vocals comprise a serviceable romp. Unfortunately, this is sandwiched between the album’s two worst efforts, the hokey, unfunny weed anthem “Mary Jane” and Einstein’s painfully stupid homage to his own dick and, um, “fat pussy.” While a good deal of what feels like a failure falls on these two talented producers’ shoulders, the guests, with whom I won’t pretend to be well-acquainted, are frequently irksome and at times outright repulsive. I mean, I totally love me some Lil Wayne saying he’s going to “filet mignon that pussy,” so vulgarity isn’t my main qualm, but so many of the lyrics are flaccid nothingness as sexual come-ons, lazy ejaculate that would be negligible at best if the beats knocked harder.

In the midst of this slumping disappointment, “Keep It Goin’ Louder” is smooth cliché that’s welcome to show up on MTV Jams in the coming months, sliding comfortably between the enjoyable garbage of Ace Hood and whoever the next Keri Hilson will be. In terms of club-ready R&B, it’s no crowning achievement, but it stands out mostly for the reason that it doesn’t resemble a dancehall track save for Nina Sky’s involvement (and they’re from Long Island, aren’t they?), which is a nice respite from the dancehall tracks Diplo and Switch aren’t terribly great at producing.

Which maybe explains my conflicting feelings about Diplo and his various collaborators’ oeuvre: their ambitions sometimes clash with their aptitudes. Diplo is great at taking Polow Da Don’s fetish for maximalism, meshing it with melancholia, and constructing from that template some undeniable, meaty sweat-lodge jams (see: his remix work on Fear and Loathing in Hunts Vegas [2008]), and it might do well to temper his eagerness if he ventured away from an aesthetic at which he excels. Of course, stagnation is a conundrum of a different sort, and on and on. Perhaps this is just an awkward step in the right direction, or a toe in unfamiliar waters, never to be revisited. This might sound like a blunder, but Diplo can never be criticized for not being adventurous enough; though he can be criticized, magnanimously, for Major Lazer.