If bass music pioneer Diplo has a single thing working against him, it’s the pressure to constantly validate himself. We’re seldom the first to shower the Mad Decent label founder in praises; between his penchant for online douchebaggery and the thrown-together tripe he’s passed off as music during his time as one half of Jack Ü, we’re quite honestly more inclined to critique anything with his name on it harshly. Nonetheless, we’ll always give credit where credit is due – and we can confidently count Major Lazer‘s Peace Is The Mission among our favorite albums of 2015, so far.
The third full-length effort of the Major Lazer outfit, Peace holds to the Diplo side project’s previously established appeal – Jamaican dancehall mixed seamlessly with elements of EDM and hip-hop – while updating its production values for an ever-discerning listener base and effectively expanding its stylistic range from song to song. It works as a pop album, an EDM album or a dancehall album, and chances are if you don’t like what you hear on one track then you can you can skip to the next and hear something that manages to be just different enough without betraying the feel of the whole.
The album starts on on uncharacteristically somber note, as the downtempo stylings of “Be Together” draw heavily from melancholy verses contributed by Wild Belle vocalist Natalie Bergman, telling of a forlorn lover’s desperate longing.
Then comes “Too Original.” We don’t need to tell you again how we feel about this track; it speaks for itself. In case clicking on that hyperlink is too much trouble for you, though, suffice it to say that the kazoo-like, Melbourne bounce-reminiscent synth driving the attitude of the track gives it a unique, fresh sound that we hadn’t heard before its release a few weeks ago.
Of course, no remotely Jamaican album would be complete without an obligatory weed song. “Blaze Up the Fire” may be driven by Jamaican reggae revival singer Chronixx’s vocal chops, but a trappy drop replete with 808s and sawtooth synths makes this a track for the festival circuit.
The most watered-down track on Peace is “Lean On,” Major Lazer’s collaboration with DJ Snake from earlier in the year – if for no other reason than because it’s already been played to death for months before the album’s release. We don’t know about you, but even though we found the song catchy at first, the sound of MØ telling us to “blow a kiss, fire a gun” has made us want to blow our own heads off since the 100th time we had to hear the vapid lyric.
Instead, we feel like a much stronger candidate for the album’s big, radio-ready single would have been the next track, “Powerful,” a lyrical conversation between esteemed EDM vocalist Ellie Goulding and reggae vocalist Tarrus Riley. While still considerably more pop-y than the rest of the tracks on the album, it works better than you might expect a collaboration between an English pop star and a Jamaican reggae vocalist to.
“Light It Up” and “Roll the Bass” feature more obscure bass music elements than any other tracks on the album, serving as a welcome departure from the songs before them. The effervescent synth work of the former and borderline moombahton flair of the latter give these songs a bit more crate digger appeal than what we’ve heard thus far.
Up next is “Night Riders,” which stands out as the grittiest hip-hop track on the effort, with verses by Pusha T, Mad Cobra, Travi$ Scott and 2 Chainz instilling an incendiary gravity into the song that can’t be found anywhere else on the album.
Last but not least, we’d like to know is why Diplo elected to close out the album with his Ariana Grande collaboration, “All My Love.” We were obviously aware that she would be featured on the album, but her Disney princess vocal style marks such a dramatic aberration from traditional dancehall that leaving Peace on such a note seems like sacrilege.
Overall, though, Major Lazer‘s Peace Is The Mission owes its strength as an album to its largely effective synthesis of a variety of styles. Make no mistake, it’s definitely more mainstream and less dancehall than the albums that preceded it – and will undoubtedly garner criticism from the genre’s purists – but considering how well the changes in creative direction were carried out, it still gets our stamp of approval. Seeing as how Diplo has managed to maintain forward momentum with his side project, we look forward to hearing how its sound further evolves for next year’s follow-up album, Music Is The Weapon.
Even though, at moments, Peace is the Mission abandons the street cred of the outfit's earlier Jamaican dancehall sound, it makes up for it in production values and memorable collaborations.