You will inevitably have heard of Major Lazer (the alias of Mad Decent’s Diplo) from the Beyonce-sampled ‘Pon De Floor’: played at least once in every club night. However you should also losten to to the fictional-Major’s hit ‘Guns don’t kill people, Lazers Do’. Now with his sophomore album Diplo brings us his progressive dancehall inspired club effort.
For those who are scratching their heads at this point, dancehall is similar to Afro-Caribbean roots music, but Free the Universe hits us with deliberate mash-ups of this style with more modern Western beats, such as on ‘Keep Cool’. Free the Universe does just that, it’s catchy from the off and there’s a good flow to the album. Despite this, it’s clear that there’s a strong influence from Major’s ‘Guns…’ in songs such as ‘Sweat’ and in the signature military snare beat of ‘You’re No Good’.
The artists from Diplo’s Mad Decent label on Free the Universe range from the Caribbean feel embodied by Shaggy and Wyclef Jean to rap features from Tyga and Elephant Man. But Free the Universe also masterfully has many more smooth and toned down songs, such as ‘Reach for the Stars’, where if Wyclef Jean’s voice doesn’t get you to feel this record then I certainly won’t be able to.
However, among the stellar female featuring tracks, such as ‘Bubble Butt’; there are also gimmicky tracks, such as ‘Scare Me’, that don’t work with their slow drum beats and almost childish lyrics. This lasts for a couple of tracks around the midway mark with Jessica’s ‘Message to You Rudy’ style beat and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig’s feature, which doesn’t quite fit with the authentic Afro-roots style. At this point it seems like a few songs would have been better left in the studio or on a mixtape rather than amidst this truly impressive and enjoyable album.
A good way to summarise Free the Universe would be: range. At the start of tracks such as ‘Mashup the Dance’, you could almost be fooled into thinking you’ve picked up a 1950s rock and roll CD for the first twenty seconds, before you’re confronted by a typical Lazer hookline. Equally in ‘Playground’ you’d be pardoned for thinking Jamrock had been resurrected with a lilting bass beat. Lastly, ‘Wind up’ might even be harkening back to a Daft Punk style with the hook: “grab it, beat it, rewind it”.
I challenge anyone to stay restrained throughout Free the Universe – prepare to lose your headphones a couple of times nodding along. I’ve read that Major Lazer is the future of dancehall, and from this largely solid album, I would have to agree.
…Harry has been listening to James Blake – ‘Overgrown’…