Major Lazer

Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do

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Pan-American dance diplomats Diplo and Switch moved from Brazilian baile funk and Baltimore club music to Jamaican dancehall for Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do, the debut album for their Major Lazer project. (There was also a one-off Top Ten hit and Grammy-nominated Record of the Year in there too, for M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes.") The results are impressive standard-bearers for dancehall, displaying the duo's ample facility for floating the type of productions that have made dancehall the most experimental and extreme type of commercial dance music since it dawned in the mid-'80s. Inveterate DJs and music fans, both Diplo and Switch are well versed in the style, and they apparently had no difficulty recruiting dancehall's best and brightest for features, including vocalists Mr. Lex, Ms. Thing, and Mr. Vegas as well as production powerhouse Vybz Kartel (they also lured in a pair of non-dancehall types, Santigold and Amanda Blank). As other producers have known, including the Bug and DJ /rupture, dancehall music is perfect for experimentalist dance producers. It's a careening and unpredictable style, where hooks can be fashioned from any noises: sirens, horns, vocal tags, horses neighing, cellphones buzzing, babies crying -- and of course, lasers. The beats are pummeling, equally reliant on digital pulses and martial snares, but they drop out often (the better to lay down some more offbeat effects). The productions here conform to dancehall more than they play against type, even spreading to the affectionately silly weed anthem "Mary Jane" and a pair of slack (aka sex-heavy) tracks, "Bruk Out" and "What U Like." (Unfortunately, on the latter, an epic battle of the sexes between Einstein and indie rap sensation Amanda Blank never materializes.) The highlights come early on, when Santigold and Mr. Lex combine fiercely on the opening "I'll Make Ya" (aka "Hold the Line"), and also on "Anything Goes," where Turbulence earns his sobriquet with a screaming extroverted performance over Major Lazer's hailstorm of beats and sweeping strings. Side two is more scattershot, with everything from a surprisingly weak piece of Auto-Tuned dance-pop to a production tour de force on "Pon de Floor," with Major Lazer joined by Vybz Kartel. It's as much as could be expected but not quite as much as it could have been, and considering the rumors of more productions and guests that didn't see the light, it's likely there'll be more to come.

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