Music News

New Release Tuesday: Major Lazer + Free MP3: "Hold The Line"

First and foremost, don't be fooled by the fact that DJs Diplo and Switch are the brains behind Major Lazer. Also, don't get caught up in the fact that Santigold is on the lead single, "Hold The Line." Major Lazer's Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do is 100% a reggae album. Sure, it features beats arranged by Diplo and Switch, but it also features a plethora of reggae vocals throughout the entire album -- even featuring some unmistakable reggae beats. That being said, Guns is a funky little album, with just the right amount of kitsch and out-there, experimental beats. Even if reggae isn't exactly your favorite genre, Guns is an impressive album -- chock full of polish that both Diplo and Switch have accumulated throughout their prolific careers.

There is a kitschy little backstory for the origins of Major Lazer, just in case you needed it:

Major Lazer is a Jamaican commando who lost his arm in the secret Zombie War of 1984. The US military rescued him and repurposed experimental lazers as prosthetic limbs. Since then Major Lazer has been a hired renegade soldier for a rogue government operating in secrecy underneath the watch of M5 and the CIA. His cover is that of a dancehall night club owner from Trinidad and he enlisted the help of long-time allies and uber-producers, Diplo and Switch, to produce his first LP.

Switch and Diplo know that they have to keep things fresh and a little weird in today's changing music landscape, and Major Lazer affords them the freedom to really explore reggae and dancehall. Their prolific status as producers and DJs -- cemented by their work with M.I.A. and her super-mega-gigantic hit "Paper Planes" -- landed them guest vocals by reggae and dancehall artists such as Nina Sky, Mr. Lexx, Ms. Thing and Ricky Blaze plus some help from good friends Amanda Blank and Santigold.

The result is an album that is all over the place, exploring the limits of reggae and what oddball sounds can be injected into a song without confusing listeners too much (such as the horse whinnying, clattering hooves, girls giggling and telephone busy signals in "Hold The Line"). Convention isn't exactly what Diplo and Switch strive for on Guns, yet this doesn't mean the album is a jumbled mess of crazy beats and odd sound effects. "Hold The Line" is a funky song that will lodge itself in your head for weeks at a time. It's an impressive marriage of those aforementioned sound effects and smart, polished reggae/dancehall beats -- and having Santigold hold it down at the end of the track doesn't hurt, either.

The track "When You Hear The Bassline" sounds an awful lot like the Basement Jaxx's song "Jump N' Shout," but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, since Basement Jaxx are legends of electronic music. It's an homage to the song, in a way, and it expands on what made "Jump N' Shout" such a infectious tune some 10 years ago.

Guns progresses through some familiar reggae territory, hardly breaking the mold with some songs that sound too similar sometimes -- not always a good thing for a genre that can get repetitive at times. However, Diplo and Switch smartly bury the song "Keep It Goin' Louder" in the middle of the album, possibly trying to hide the fact that the track could be played on Top 40 radio without anyone batting an eye. It's got the ever popular auto-tune, compliments of dancehall singer Ricky Blaze, and the vocals by Nina Sky give the song a smooth R&B/hip-hop sheen. It's got mainstream appeal, yet it fits perfectly into Guns -- a decidedly left-of-the dial album.

"Keep It Goin' Louder" perfectly illustrates what Diplo and Switch do so well with this album -- explore the outer limits of reggae and dancehall while still taking the time to produce slick, radio-ready tunes. As I listen to this amalgamation of reggae vocals, pulsing beats and bizarre sound effects known as Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do, I cannot help but fall victim to its charm. I know a baby crying in auto-tune is a very, very odd concept ("Baby"), but it's funny, nonetheless, and adds to the album's appeal. Sure, Guns may leave you scratching your head at first, but give the album enough time and its charm -- not to mention slick production --  will overwhelm your senses.

Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do is out today and it is the first release to come out of the label partnership between Downtown Records and Diplo's label, Mad Decent.

Check out Major Lazer's myspace for more information about the music.

Please enjoy the video for "Hold The Line," which pretty much sums up what Diplo and Switch wanted to do with this album.

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Michael Lopez