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Review: Major Lazer Sputter Out on ‘Peace Is the Mission’

SPIN Rating: 5 of 10
Release Date: June 2, 2015
Label: Mad Decent

You likely aren’t approaching a Major Lazer record looking for substance — the experience is about shirtless electronic music by way of the islands — but the group’s new album, Peace Is the Mission, lacks much of even that. Though 2013’s Free the Universe stretched the message so thin it ripped holes in their narrative (the stain from Wyclef Jean’s cheery “Reach For the Stars” won’t ever come out), it at least delivered on the Diplo-led collective’s early promise of Big Dumb Bangers With Character.

The crew’s new one just doesn’t gel: It jumps from instrumental thump’n’b bore “Roll the Bass” to the plinking hip-hop posse cut “Night Riders” to what should’ve been a solo Ariana Grande joint, “All My Love,” which instead adds Michael Montano’s vocoded shouting because Diplo thinks that volume = quality. Often the best dance albums make their mission about not having a mission; Major Lazer treat Peace Is the Mission like a statement, albeit one without a single punctuation mark.

Those that rely on noise more than melody go pretty far in, but the rest of the batch just aren’t that musical. “Powerful” takes Ellie Goulding and tosses her into a Rod Stewart knockoff with Tarrus Riley, her starchy, papery whimper thrown center stage rather than the cushioned, synthesized embrace we’ve come to know her for. Other songs staunchly refuse to play to their guests’ strengths, which is so off-key considering that Major Lazer have made their name largely on the backs of their vocalists. Though Diplo’s got a thing for 2 Chainz — the “Bubble Butt” remix and Jack Ü‘s “Febreze” — the Atlanta spitter shows up on “Night Riders” and snores his way through a plodding verse. It’s not his fault; the beat doesn’t suit his particular Sprite-slugged flow, and that’s an easy fix.

Peace Is the Mission also presents a soundproof reason for artists to stop splitting up their albums into two-parters. Major Lazer’s second 2015 release, Music Is the Weapon, is due in the fall. These should have just been single full-length culling the best of each. Then we could’ve avoided songs like “Blaze Up the Fire,” a Chronixx-aided retread of everything Diplo’s done bigger and better before. The Wild Belle opener, “Be Together,” is a tinny, dreamy way to kick things off — it’s got a beat, too — but it’s washed away by “Too Original,” a squawking disaster that tries to stitch together disparate sounds like flattened-out horns and sunburnt drumming. It features Elliphant, an anomalous young Swedish rapper whose signature is a patois-drenched flow that might, if enough people start to take notice, lead her down the path of “cultural appropriation criticism” trod recently by Iggy Azalea.

Only one of the nine new tracks follows through on the talent everyone knows Diplo to possess: “Lean On” features DJ Snake and Danish singer/songwriter Mø (who’d have thought she would be the one to emerge from Iggy Azalea’s disastrous SNL performance last fall unscathed?) and stands so far apart from the rest of this album’s songs that it seems to have been either a fluke or a mistake. Cohesion isn’t usually Major Lazer’s strong suit, but god, a whole album stylized after “Lean On” would be nothing short of miraculous.

It’s a pillar of sugar and salt in the way it slams together traditional electronic and pop leanings with an Eastern sensibility and samples — the pitched-up, wailing chorus and rat-a-tat drumming are both so clearly lifted from the sounds that’ve carried Bollywood hits, wrapped up in sticky keyboards and muted, tempered harpsichord. Mø’s vocals go big and broad; she’s got this slightly nasally tone to her walloping notes that sets the unassailable “Lean On” firmly apart from the rest of Peace Is the Mission. But Diplo and Co. threw everything at the wall and turned around, pretending it stuck when all that’s really left is the splatter from undercooked leftovers.