Label: Mad Decent/ Because MusicScore: 7/10
Following Switch’s departure from Major Lazer in 2011, Free The Universe sees the continuation of Diplo’s Kingston odyssey with the added producing talents of Jillionaire and Walshy Fire. The hotly anticipated and much delayed release of Major Lazer’s new electro-meets-dancehall effort continues in much the same vein as the previous releases but with perhaps more variety given the inclusion of such artists as Laidback Luke, Flux Pavilion and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend.
Major Lazer has always been a collaborative project and it is no surprise to see a long list of featuring artists on this record’s sleeve. Unlike 2009’s Guns Don’t Kill People… Lazers Do, which featured at least one Jamaican musician on each track, there is a much more international feel to the guest artists.
For fans of previous material there’s enough overlap between records to keep them happy. “You’re No Good,” the albums opening track featuring Major Lazer veteran Santigold as well as recent single, “Watch Out For This (Bumaye)” remind you of what worked well about the first studio release. As does the track “Wind Up” which perfectly blends syncopated dancehall rhythms, with Diplo’s electro synth lead and the characteristic patios vocals of Elephant Man.
However the stand-out track from the album has to be the 2012 single “Get Free,” (co-written by Switch incidentally,) featuring the haunting vocals of Dirty Projector’s Amber Coffman which when combined with the simplicity of the well-crafted bass and crescendoing reggae synths; proving that Major Lazer can do low-key without losing the complexity of beats for which Diplo is famed.
However there are a few songs on the album that feel out of place. The other slow tempo reggae inspired number, “Jessica” with vocals from Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, despite all the interesting digital manipulation of his voice, just feels a little too pastiche to have a place here. Elsewhere “Bubble Butt” featuring vocals from Bruno Mars and Tyga is perhaps too American hip-hop to sit happily beside such Jamaican tinged dancefloor tunes like the Laidback Luke collab “Sweat”. The other track that doesn’t feel right is the song with Flux Pavilion, “Jah No Partial,” perhaps an example of Major Lazer being over ambitious, resulting in a sound that is just a bit too muddled.
Although there is nothing here that is as immediately attention grabbing as 2009’s critically acclaimed track “Pon De Floor,” the album does come close in places. It seems that Diplo is still very much in love with the dancehall sounds of Jamaica and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more output from the project in the future.