Major Lazer is the name assumed for Diplo and Switch’s collaboration on this dancehall album. Although these two producers have not previously released music within this genre and they strike a playful tone within their work (including a silly backstory for Major Lazer involving zombie wars and laser arms), they are not playing make-believe as dancehall producers. Diplo and Switch brought fiery beats to the Tough Gong studio in Jamaica, where some of dancehall’s major players, along with Santigold and Amanda Blank, dropped their vocals.
And the album is a blast. Diplo and Switch mix amusing samples into lively dancehall rhythms under breaks that from pull from hip-hop, punk, reggae, and house. The production is careful and masterful, revealing new sounds upon each play but thumping and rattling enough to provide fuel for any dance party.
Santigold, featured along with Mr. Lexx on the opening track, “Hold the Line,” is the biggest mainstream performer on Guns. The song sets off the album right, highlighting the vocalists with a simple guitar loop while stirring in amusing cellphone sounds. The playful mood is extended throughout the album. “Mary Jane” uses that old euphemism in a straight-up comedy track that runs on the legs of a sticky trombone bass line. Two tracks, “Bruk Out” and “What U Like” (the latter with Amanda Blank), bring X-rated themes explicitly to forefront. “Baby,” featuring Prince Zimboo, takes the playful production to the outer edge. While the beat builds from a baby crying with “built-in Autotune,” Zimboo asks that it “stop that mechanical crying soon,” suggesting commentary on Autotune’s prevalent use to disguise all manners of singing.
A couple of the tracks miss the mark — the formulaic but radio-friendly “Keep It Goin’ Louder” and Turbulance’s politics on “Anything Goes” just don’t fit in this light-hearted, creative mix. A front-to-back play of Guns may not work for a dorm-room style throwdown, but it is a successful album of dancehall tracks that shows good teamwork within this collaboration.