By Erik Myers
The right animation can make all the difference in music. Where Damon Alburn found long-lasting success behind the world’s most popular animated band Gorillaz, Philadelphia-bred producer Diplo has left a smaller but memorable imprint as the musically-gifted cyborg commando Major Lazer. The new record from Major Lazer, “Free the Universe,” is just as good as its full-length predecessor, which is to say without its few distinguished singles, it’s pretty boring.
A Major Lazer record is typically a sum equal to its parts, or more accurately, its collaborators. “Free the Universe” features a wide array of guest vocals, some straight out of Jamaica’s dancehall scene, along with a smaller number of guest producers. Diplo manages his roster well, wringing talent out of those who could be expected to have nothing new to share. The cutesy “Jessica,” for example, has Ezra Koeing of Vampire Weekend singing softly to its buttery time-damaged melody before hitting on what’s likely the highest notes he can manage in the bridge. Diplo is even more successful with Amber Coffman of the Dirty Projectors, who leads the best Major Lazer track yet on “Get Free.” She sings with the same crisp majestic projection expected of her but achieves a remarkable melancholy as the downtrodden working girl, a traditional character of early dancehall.
Unfortunately, “Free the Universe” fails to fill out its corners. It was nice of Diplo to lift Shaggy out of obscurity, but the poppy one-hit wonder sounds out of his element on the bland melody of “Keep Cool.” Reggae star Johnny Osbourne gets a turn on “Jah No Partial,” but his efforts are overcooked by Flux Pavilion’s loopy saturated bombast. Not that it wasn’t worth the effort, but the attempted spiritual successor to “Pon De Floor” is little more than a lame sequel. “Wind Up” is not nearly as clever a melody and Elephant Man doesn’t come close to recreating Vybz Kartel’s madcap shout of “Major Lazer!” Clearly, it’s needed.
Electronic blogger Erik Myers is a Denver-based writer and new contributor to Reverb. Contact him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter.