Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do
out June 16th
The opening notes of Major Lazer’s debut album evoke an old Western movie, counterparts riding toward each other, gritty and determined looks on their faces, horse hooves scraping the dusty ground, tumbleweeds blowing across the barren landscape. The next 41 minutes and 50 seconds throw that image out the window, sacrificed in favor of summer parties, dancehall clubs, and Bacardi commercials. It’s a summer fling of an album, all fun and no commitment, blatantly here to party, break some things, and then go home. Sweet.
Major Lazer is the nom-de-record of the collaboration between producers Diplo and Switch. The name belongs, supposedly, to a one-armed Jamaican commando who fought in a secret zombie war. Instead of prosthetic arms, he now has lasers for hands. Yes, you read that correctly. Given that back story, Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do sounds pretty much exactly how you’d expect it to – complete with off the wall beats, uncontrollable lyrics, and awesometastic videos.
The album isn’t for everybody. It’s not really an old-people-album, it’s not really a jam-band-fan-album, it’s not really an offended-by-off-color-lyrics-album.
Nor is the album for all situations. It’s not really a gradually-wake-up-to-album, it’s not really a mellowing-out-in-your-living-room-album, it’s not really a just-got-bad-news-album.
But for those moments and people that it’s meant for, it’s perfect. Do you often find yourself with a bunch of buzz-chasing kids looking for a dance party? Bingo. Are you a DJ looking for a Santigold cut to mix with (the also Diplo and Switch produced) "Paper Planes"? Bingo. Are you Usain Bolt looking to get pumped up before a race? Bingo. This is the album for you.
I don’t claim to be a dancehall expert in any sense of the word. My exposure to reggae is pretty much confined to people with the last name Marley, I don’t know the difference between dubstep and dancehall, and I used to like Sean Paul in high school. But the fact that I don’t know much about those genres and scenes shouldn’t change the fact that I ride for this album. In fact, it should probably serve as an extra bonus – even people who know nothing about what they’re listening to will dig it!
Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do opens with “Hold The Line”, backed by a Bird Is The Word bassline and fronted by a stutterstepping Santigold. It’s some high energy, high intensity material, and one of the album’s standout tracks. “Anything Goes”, featuring Turbulence, is another highlight. Turbulence’s Jamaican accent is interwoven with synthesized strings, laseresque sound effects, and explosions. It’s here that Diplo’s description of the album is apt: “digital reggae and dancehall from Mars in the future!”
“Pon de Floor” is probably my favorite track from the album…no wait, maybe it’s “Jump Up”. No, it might be the aforementioned “Anything Goes”, although the stoner romp “Mary Jane” is pretty solid too. Ah! It’s just so hard to choose! The fact is, this isn’t an album that’s supposed to be analyzed on a song-by-song basis. It’s more of a soundtrack than a complete record, meant to serve as a backdrop for a dance party rather than as a piece of art. Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do pumps through speakers and pales through headphones. It’s meant to be shared.
The album isn’t without its low points. “Cash Flow” is a low-energy reggae tune that seems out of place between high octane tracks “Anything Goes” and “Mary Jane”. “Can’t Stop Now” would serve better as an outro to the album – it seems out of place in the first three tracks. And “Baby”, a skit song built on the gag of a crying baby having built-in autotune, was great as a hype-building promo for the album but doesn’t match up to the quality found elsewhere on the record.
But a couple duds on an album stuffed to the gills with frantic bangers is forgivable. Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do never pretends to be anything more than what it is – a nonsensically hype dancehall album that will miraculously reach the ears of suburban youth and indie snobs everywhere. It’s weird, it’s intense, it’s unfamiliar. And not everyone will like it - I personally want to like it less than I actually do like it. But in its superficiality, it’s pretty perfect.
To enter to win a copy of Major Lazer’s Guns Don't Kill People...Lazers Do, leave a comment with your thoughts on the tracks you’ve just sampled, Major Lazer, or (if you’ve listened to it) the album. Make sure you leave your name/email address in the provided fields! Entries will be accepted until July 7th