Considering Diplo and Switch were nominated for a Grammy this year for being the masterminds behind the creation of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes”, it’s no wonder that people are paying attention to these two American DJs. On their first full-length album together, they call themselves Major Lazer, and they’re out to tear your house down.
It’s evident from looking at the lineup of collaborators what Diplo and Switch wanted Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do to sound like. Do the names Vybz Kartel, Ms. Thing, Mr. Vegas, T.O.K. or Mr. Lexx ring a bell? Probably not if you aren’t up on today’s dancehall/reggae music circuit much. How about Santigold? Surely, she’s more on your radar, but don’t expect much contribution from her as she is only featured in one of thirteen tracks. And when she does contribute, her vocals are highly atonal, unlike her vocals on her debut last year. The collaborators that Major Lazer are paying homage to are not the album’s star player, but those behind dancehall and reggae.
Guns is an explosive and volatile album at best. It’s juicy with thumping basslines and unusual arrangements that are produced through cosmic laser sounds, Western film-cliches, drum lines, cell phone rings, vibrations, and electric compressors. There are even mechanical baby utterances too! Throughout the years, Jamaican dancehall artists have become more keen on electric assistance and have strayed from traditional strings and percussion; instruments that have previously fused reggae with dancehall…Major Lazer are doing their best with keeping up with these trends.
Switch and Diplo are notorious for their ability to take hit songs and contort them into club bangers or something transitive. They’ve perfected the art of the “wobbly beat” and their impressive catalog of remixes marks both of them as some of the best contenders out there in the house/electronic scene. As a result, Guns is quite an experiment for the two, and it’s captivating to hear the familiar Switch and Diplo techniques blended together in a way that works for their lineup of guest vocalists.
“Cash” is the closest thing to true reggae on this entire album. It’s smooth, atmospheric and seasoned with Jamaican flavors that come through in the simple guitar riffs and echoic vocalizations that transcend into quiet instrumentals. Then you have “Bruk Out”, a track featuring both T.O.K and Ms. Thing. As Ms. Thing exudes her sassy attitude through the chorus line, T.O.K. takes care of the verses by rapping in a deep and almost monstrous Jamaican accent over uptempo drumlines. Dancehall authenticity even pervades through a good deal of the album’s lyrics. “What U Like” is a raunchy, sexually explicit track with lyrics like, “You love when bad men fuck ya”…and that isn’t even the half of the salacious banter on this two-and-a-half minute track.
If radio gets a hold of the hook heavy “Keep It Goin’ Louder”, it may revive Nina Sky’s short-lived career, because Ricky Blaze has the ever so popular T-Pain mimic down perfectly. There’s also an innocent and sweet boy/girl vocal trade off that’s fun to sing along with and it’s a surefire bet to climb the charts. Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do is an unexpected album when it comes to the different soundscapes encountered from beginning to end, but Major Lazer never fails to include groundshaking bass lines.
Props: Joe Stahl (COS)