By Tom Charles
Major Lazer’s sophomore album, Free the Universe, tries too hard to incorporate varying genres instead of sculpting a new fusion of its own.
Major Lazer’s debut album, Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do, followed a simple formula: Western electronica meets Jamaican dancehall. On their sophomore release, Free the Universe, the group tries to push this blend a step too far. Featuring varying marquee artists (Santigold, Elephant Man, Bruno Mars, Shaggy, Ezra Koenig) on all 14 tracks, the album is too ambitious, and it lacks focus. It nearly fuses every Western dance subgenre with every Caribbean one, then crams it all onto one record.
To a small extent, this sort of blend already exists as trap-EDM, so it comes as little surprise that the album’s most quality tracks echo the genre. “Wind Up” overlays a wall of sub-bass on top of a scaling high-frequency pitch, while “Sweat” stacks booty-bouncing percussion and shimmering wind chimes over trap’s signature drippy, four-on-the-floor jabs. The single “Jah No Partial” almost crosses over as well, utilizing bongo riddims and Rasta vocals to mirror authentic Jamaican dub, but the drop’s hopped-up mega-bass makes it indistinguishable from other Flux Pavilion track — guess it makes sense he’s featured on it.
Each song on Free the Universe stands better on their own than all the songs do as a unit. “Jessica” and “Get Free” provide mellow, good-time rocksteady vibes. “Scare Me” sounds like an underground drum-and-bass track from the early days of UK dubstep. But together they’re disjointed, starting and stopping too often to gain momentum.
This record makes the “creative differences” that led Switch to leave the duo in 2011 become clear. Diplo, the remaining partner, now joined by Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, reaches beyond Major Lazer’s scope on Free the Universe.