When in doubt, adopt a cartoon persona. Bowie showed the way, hip-hop's outsize personality cults thrive off the conceit and the success of Gorillaz has offered a viable option for successful artists who want to drop the weight of expectation every so often.
Major Lazer, Diplo and Switch's new multi-vocalist project, adopts a band of hand-drawn-and-colored personae to help out with the branding and marketing. (The Major Lazer character himself was, per a press release, "[A] renegade commando with a lazer arm and a rocket-powered skateboard who fights the spoils of vampires, zombies, pimps, mummies, and other unsavory forces of evil.") It makes sense as a way to introduce a couple back-room guys (in the pop sense, given their work with M.I.A. and Santigold) to the wider world.
Major Lazer is the pair's dancehall project—a survey of a wide range of Jamaican rhythmic styles, all given a contemporary sheen and the producers' own ideas, which are respectful of the styles in question without being overly reverent. Plenty is stridently minimalist: the 808-driven "What U Like" (sung by Amanda Blank and Einstein), "Bruk Out" (vocoders and T.O.K. and Ms. Thing), the wondrously raw "Pon De Floor" (with Vybz Kartel), are starkly minimal in ways that feel as close to U.S./U.K. dance-club aesthetics as those of Jamaican yards. And the steel-nerved wobbling low end of "Anything Goes" suggests a light warping by dubstep.
Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do is equally adept at going full-on pop. That's not remotely a bad thing, especially in this context—dancehall is not wallflowery art music. We'll see whether or not the heavily applied Autotune, rippling synths (reminiscent of Justin Timberlake's "My Love") and Eurodance feel of "Keep It Goin' Louder" crosses them over, if indeed that's its aim.
Either way, the track works—they all do. "Hold the Line" kicks it off with Santigold and Mr. Lex taking turns over a stepper's rhythm and blurry spaghetti-western guitar. The bionic "When You Hear the Bassline" bounds Ms. Thing in layers of bounding bass and vocal processing that makes her syllables sound the way soap bubbles look. The grooves all hit their marks with ease--chugging roots reggae for "Cash Flow" (with Jah Dan), ska on "Can't Stop Now" (with Mr. Vegas and Jovi Rockwell), and what sounds like a funky circus-elephants' theme on "Mary Jane." A little cartoonish, sure, but you know, nothing wrong with that.
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Tracklist: Major Lazer - Gunz Dont Kill People, Lazers Do 01. Hold The Line feat. Mr. Lex & Santigold
02. When You Hear The Bassline feat. Ms. Thing
03. Can’t Stop Now feat. Mr. Vegas & Jovi Rockwell
04. Lazer Theme feat. Future Trouble
05. Anything Goes feat. Turbulence
06. Cash Flow feat. Jah Dan
07. Mary Jane feat. Mr. Evil & Mapei
08. Bruk Out feat. T.O.K. & Ms. Thing
09. What U Like feat. Amanda Blank & Einstein
10. Keep It Goin' Louder feat. Nina Sky & Ricky Blaze
11. Pon De Floor feat. Vybz Kartel (additional production by Afro Jack)
12. Baby feat. Prince Zimboo
13. Jump Up feat. Leftside & Supahype (co-produced by Crookers)