Major Lazer

Free the Universe

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His co-conspirator Switch may have moved on, but with producer Diplo's bag of tricks and his hipper-than-hip selection of guests (including major help from producers Jillionaire and Walshy Fire), the Major Lazer mythos -- he's a DJ by night and a Jamaican zombie killer by other nights -- is alive and twitching on this sophomore release. This welcome return begins deceptively with the slow-burning kiss-off "You're No Good" starting the show, but the combination of marquee vocalists Santigold and Vybz Kartel couldn't illustrate the left-field-dance-meets-Jamaican-dancehall style of the project any better. Once the credits roll on the cinematic track, it's straight-up bonkers time with "Jet Blue Jet," a bleeping, furious, trap music cut where dancehall don Leftside leads the pack and offers a Baauer-challenging version of the "Kingston Shake." Since naughty ragga lady Lady Saw didn't show up, Peaches and Timberlee face off on "Scare Me," a punany power meets synth pop cut with some amazing video game chase scene music providing the bridge. Power puncher "Wind Up" is raw enough to be a hit back home for Elephant Man, the great "Watch Out for This (Bumaye)" finds Busy Signal macking over moombahton beats with a fantastic air horn and disco break in the middle, and fat track "Bubble Butt" is like Bruno Mars, Tyga, and Mystic formed the Ying Yang Triplets just to prove that crunk ain't dead. Those who blew their minds and/or speakers pumping the project's 2009 debut will find it familiar ground, but how Free the Universe arguably tops Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do is with the meatier, more subdued cuts, as Dirty Projectors vocalist Amber Coffman explores the connections between King Tubby and Alicia Keys with the elegant R&B dub of "Get Free." Later it's the imagining of Vampire Weekend holding a session at Kingston's classic Studio One as VW's Ezra Koenig's croons over the scratchy reggae groove of "Jessica," and while the Flux Pavilion feature "Jah No Partial" has the bass drops to get the mall kids rolling, it's still a weighty, soul-filling number that could have easily fallen off a Damian Marley album. All that, and there are still great performances from Wyclef, Shaggy, and Laidback Luke to go, so think of Free the Universe as Major Lazer's second great modern ragga meltdown.

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