Major Lazer, Free The Universe (Secretly Canadian Records)
DJ Switch may have departed but Major Lazer is still going strong. Joe Whyte checks out the latest album.
I guess a little perspective is needed for me to review this album. The first music I was really, properly into was punk; it defines my taste and everything associated to this day.
A year or so on, via John Peel’s late night shows, I developed a love for dub reggae in tandem with punk’s diversification and sprawl.
In the early 90’s it was Americana that drove me, particularly the bands that came out of hardcore to pursue roots rock and country-tinged music. It was all about the energy, I guess.
To this day, these are the three things I listen to every day. I’m not, to be perfectly frank, particularly “up” on current music, particularly of the urban variety.
A brief interlude, like many of the punk generation, into rave culture came next, but with the hindsight-ometer on full, I reckon that was more about my love for the hedonistic, chemical-chasing lifestyle than any particular fondness for the music.
Anyway, fast forward to 2012 and I’m at Glasgow’s ABC to see the support act, Unicorn Kid who’d wowed me at Wickerman earlier in the year. As a brief aside, Unicorn Kid is hugely recommended and you can check him out here – https://www.unicornkidmusic.com
He was opening for Major Lazer, at that time a collaboration between DJs Diplo and Switch. Theirs is a cavernous collision of dubstep, dancehall reggae, electro and hip-hop. At this time, I was unaware of their existence, but clearly not so for the couple of thousand bouncing Glaswegians, who it’s fair to say, attempted to eradicate the old venue’s sprung dancefloor.
I have to say, despite my lack of “previous” with this style of music, I was immediately hooked; energy, sass, style and thunderous bass lines had the place bouncing.
I could have probably done without “putting my hands up” quite so often and I could definitely live without the gun-fingers gestures, but hey ho, I’m an old punk rocker and this is the new thing.
I saw them again in Amsterdam a month or so later in a happy coincidence of me being there and them playing. Having spent the afternoon enjoying the, erm, cultural sights of Amsterdam, Major Lazer made a whole lot more sense. The Dutch fans clearly loved them and one could sense a real swell of underground support for the band.
After the departure of Switch, it appears that Diplo has recruited some pretty A-list guests for this, their second album. Snoop (briefly Lion, now reverted to Dog), Santigold, Peaches and Bruno Mars are among the names providing vocals and assistance on Free The Universe.
Opening track You’re No Good sets the tone right away. Bass-bin bothering bottom end and spiralling vocals with pace-changes, U-turns and enough mind-melt for anyone with a love of synapse-snapping dance to get them grooving big time.
As mentioned at the start, this isn’t my usual listening and I’d be lying if I claimed to know what most of it is about. What it is, however, is a party-starting, booty-shaking monster of a record which defies you to dislike it.
It’s definitely not pop music; the diversity and scope of sounds, the trouser-filling bass, the swooping synth textures, not to mention the Jamaican patois throughout make FTU anything but.
Scare Me, featuring Peaches on vocals starts with a bubbling intro that actually recalls The B52s; Peaches vocal is a little more risqué than anything the Georgians ever did, however, and witnessing her seductively calling, “feel your wicki-leak, I can feel your wicki-leak”, I somehow don’t think she’s talking about Julian Assange,.
Last years single, Get Free is a slower, spooky-paced angel of a song. Featuring Dirty Projector’s Amber on vocals, it has a real end of night, hazy sadness to it that is at odds with the rest of FTU’s walloping good-time.
Bubble Butt which features the aforementioned chart-bothering Mr.Mars on vocal duties is a real beaut. A celebration (I assume!) of ladies of a certain girth of stern, its hip-swivelling, elastic bass line and growling synths take the song from an almost novelty intro to a serotonin-heightening thumper in a swift three-and-a-bit minutes.
Major Lazer are a band with more energy than any number of lumpen, charisma-bypass pop/rock/punk-by-numbers and more sex than James Brown colliding with Rihanna in a knocking shop.
They’re unlikely to take over the pop music world anytime soon, but on the showing of FTU, they’ve created an underground genre-crossover album that deserves to be huge.