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Major Lazer - Guns Don’t Kill People... Lazers Do!

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Artist: Major Lazer

Album: Guns Don’t Kill People... Lazers Do!

Label: Downtown

Review date: Jul. 8, 2009

The likelihood of someone enjoying producer Diplo’s dancehall quasi supergroup Major Lazer may closely parallel the divide between those who appreciate the utility of social networking apps and those who say things like “who has time for that shit?” One must be able to tolerate a certain degree of foolishness in order to make it through to the moments that count. For example, follow Diplo’s Twitter stream over the last several months and it’s hard to believe he’d have time to make this kind of record, as evidenced:

    1. _
    2. i see u @liljizzel !! CRAZY WINE !! at least some crazy rum 2morow10:21 AM Feb 20th from web
    3. YO ! LAST DAY IN STUDIO WITH MAJOR LAZER! busy signal & MIA track about to get smashed then late night with flyin lotus and OFF to trinidad10:21 AM Feb 20th from web
    4. @atrak i ate my track ball once man10:12 AM Feb 20th from web in reply to atrak”

Guns Don’t Kill People...Lazers Do! nearly exhausts with a similarly-paced schizophrenia. One minute, the minds (Diplo, Switch and others, including Santigold and Skerrit) are in the same room, gnashing their collective teeth through gravity-defying grooves comprised of flying garbage, gunplay, barnyards and bulletholes. The next minute, however, the beats weaken, the plot leaks, and the listener is locked in a high school bathroom with the burnouts, smokin’ weed and making juvenile sex jokes. Or, hey, maybe they’re not so juvenile – when’s the last time you heard a teenager drop a line like “open your legs like a gift shop”? (Thank god the Andy Milonakis-via-Autotuner jam about zombie vaginas didn’t make the actual album.)

Diplo and crew’s fascination with Autotuner surfaces several times anyway. The club track “Keep It Goin’ Louder” isn’t too dissimilar from Chris Brown’s chewing gum commercial, lending just a little credence to a recent blogger/hater’s comment that parts of this album are a cynical ploy to cash in on licensing. The bizarre skit “Baby” features mythical hero Major Lazer -- rumored to be a Jamaican/cyborg/zombie killer on a jet-powered skateboard -- talking to a crying baby. The wails are transformed via Autotune into a loop for the following dancehall track.

When this session is focused on music, it’s nearly a force of nature, and it’s almost entirely about beats, and it’s a far more varied palate than one might expect. Even without considering his steady stream of Tweets in patois, Diplo would seem to have Pan-Carribbean -- not just Jamaican -- roots of some kind. When he’s not killing it with hard dancehall, or the occasional throwaway house rhythm (as in the aforementioned substitute gum commercial), he actually sneaks in the oddly syncopated truckalong snare of soca and calypso, like on “Jump Up” and “Pon De Floor,” the latter being one of the more compelling songs on the album. Its myriad sound effects, hypnotic synth riff, and extraordinarily catchy marching snare is the kind of cleverness that would invite accusations of novelty if it weren’t so pervasive – somehow, Diplo and Co. have the depth to back it up. The bass line of “Lazer Theme” is from the intro to Black Flag’s “Six Pack,” as is the closing crescendo of cymbals and feedback. It’s a weird shoutout to aging hipster types that are probably 10 to 15 years old than Diplo himself. In an almost historical counterpoint, “Can’t Stop” showcases Major Lazer’s more musical side with a vocal duet and rhythm section sweetly reminiscent of the Studio One sound.

In front of all of this sometimes exhilarating experimentation is the single “I’ll Make Ya,” during which Diplo and the entire Major Lazer collective throw the entire trickbag at a single track: Santogold rapping doubletime; a beat composed of horses, cellphones, and typewriters; deftly sampled snippet of Dick Dale’s “Misirlou.” Despite the occasional filler and silliness, Guns Don’t Kill People...Lazers Do! takes dancehall, club music and a genre that can probably best be described as “Diplo” to new and very interesting places. One can only hope he’s saving some of this clever for the next bumper crop of club rebels.

By Andy Freivogel

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