At last, the day has come! The highly anticipated sophomore release from the Major Lazer has been unleashed. For those that are new to Major Lazer, their crew consists of Diplo, Walshy Fire, Jillionaire and two very talented stage dancers. Since the departure of Switch (a founding member with Diplo) and their original hype man, Skerrit Bwoy, many listeners weren’t sure what direction, if any, Major Lazer would take. Despite claims that the group would no longer suffice as the forwarding thinking, cultural melting pot of music, the group still holds it’s ground on Free The Universe.
When we think back to their 2009 album release, Guns Don’t Kill People — Lazers Do, everyone remembers “Pon De Floor” and “Hold The Line” among others that characterized the album as something new, fresh and very different for dance music. It was a fresh breathe of air in a stagnant world of music. For those same reasons Diplo and Switch stood out among the ranks of producers. If you were able to catch the original lineup live, you know that it was something special that few people could reproduce. The energy that is put into the music isn’t realized until you’ve heard it live. Couple the music with Skerrit Bwoy’s on-stage never-before-seen daggering antics, you’ve got one crazy show. Now, after Free The Universe has been released, it’s impossible to refrain from making comparisons to their first release because of all that has happened in between the two albums.
The 17 track album, consisting of 14 originals and three remixes, still stays in the same vein as Major Lazer’s original sound. Dancehall rhythms meet electronic touches and sometimes even a flare of pop and hip-hop. The album boasts a heavy list of collaborators: Santigold, Vybz Kartel, GTA, Flux Pavilion, Amber Coffman, Elephant Man, Peaches, Ezra Koenig, Busy Signal, Flexican, Shaggy (yes, that Shaggy), Wynter Gordon, Laidback Luke, Ms. Dynamite, Wycelf Jean, Bruno Mars, Tyga, The Partysquad. There are easily more collaborators than on a traditional album, but that’s what Major Lazer is all about; combining sounds from all over the world and giving those voices or production talents a new stage to present themselves.
The first Major Lazer album captured my attention and has not let go since. After hearing the sounds of Jamaican dancehall, it was infectious. It feels so full of life, personality, unmatched energy and most importantly, it was new to me. Ever since, my dream of Kingston, Jamaica is filled with ideas of late-night street parties with speakers on blast and the men and women of Jamaica dancing like their is no tomorrow. While listening to this album, try to imagine what these tracks would sound like in a traditional dancehall setting.
Free The Universe opens with “You’re No Good” featuring Santigold, Vybz Kartel (featured on “Pon De Floor”), Danielle Haim and Yasmin. Huge, echoing drums open the album while the artists featured add their personality to the track. It’s honestly not my favorite track on the album, and maybe a poor track to open with, but on it’s own you probably wouldn’t be able to tell if it was a Santigold track or not. Next up is “Jet Blue Jet”, a track featuring Leftside, GTA, Razz & Biggy. If you were disappointed by “You’re No Good” because of the lack of dance-floor ready energy, don’t fear, “Jet Blue Jet” has this covered. You’ll be jumping around from start to finish.
“Get Free” and “Jah No Partial” follow, but I won’t bore you with those details, as both tracks have been widely available for some time. Possibly my favorite track on the album, “Wind Up,” featuring Elephant Man and Opal, gives the listener some classic Major Lazer vibes. The song is nothing but pure energy and adding Kingston resident Elephant Man only adds to their dancehall reputation. Plus, you can help but yell out “50. cal dem” at every drop.
Further into the album we have tracks like “Scare Me” featuring Peaches and Timberlee and “Jessica” featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. “Scare Me” is an upbeat tune that uses rockabilly characteristics but with an electronic touch. “Jessica” is a attempt at a more traditional reggae love song. The tracks adds a nice touch to the album and functions like another “Get Free,” which is never a problem.
“Watch Out For This (Bumaye)” is up next, and if you pre-odered the album, then you’ve already heard this track. Moombahton fans will rejoice after hearing this one, plus the sirens at the drop make this track sound way more exciting. Listen to the track and check out the official video below.
I have few complaints about the album, but one of them stems from the track with Shaggy and Wynter Gordon, “Keep Cool”. The track starts off on a fine note, and I anticipated Shaggy spitting out a few verses in his unique voice, but then Wynter Gordon is introduced and the track takes a pop turn. As the song progresses, Wynter Gordon sings in a rhythm that is suspiciously like Blink 182’s “All The Small Things”. “Late Night/Wake up/I’m sick/I’m stuck” punctuates the first few lines. Originality is usually never an issue when it comes to Major Lazer, but this is one of the few instances where I can’t help but make connections.
One of the best tracks on the album comes from Laidback Luke’s collaboration on “Sweat”, also featuring Ms. Dynamite. This track is packed with jump-up sounds and big beats. Hearing this one live is going to be a treat in the future. Up next is Wyclef Jean’s “Reach For the Stars,” another track that just doesn’t quite do it for me. It’s smooth R&B/Reggae rhythm just sounds too over-produced and made-for-radio. Following this we have “Bubble Butt” featuring Bruno Mars, Tyga & Mystic, co-produced with Valentino Khan. Mark my words, this track is going to blow up very quickly. Think of it as another “Express Yourself.” The literally bubbling track plays on the line “Bubble butt, Bubble bubble bubble butt, Bubble Butt/turn around, stick it out/show me what you got”. Sure, it’s repetitive, but ultra-catchy. If there is one track on this album that will blow up, it will be this one.
To close out the album are “Mashup the Dance” featuring the Partysquad & Ward 21 and co-produced with Chicago’s Willy Joy. Followed by “Playground” featuring Bugle & Arama. “Mashup The Dance” gives the listener another chance to get on their feet and dance. “Playground” closes out the album in a perfect way. A reggae tune with an extra serving of big brass horns. I could listen to this one on repeat, and I wouldn’t be mad one bit.
Stream the full album from Spotify.
Purchase Free The Universe
Review by John Cywinski