Major Lazer’s ‘Peace Is The Mission’: Album Review

Patrick Bowman | June 1, 2015 6:00 am
"Lean On" Video
Watch the video for Major Lazer's song of the summer bid.
When Diplo launched the dancehall-reggaeton-house music monster Major Lazer back in 2009, first as a tandem project with revered UK-based DJ Switch, it’s doubtful he could have envisioned that the project would consume his entire professional life. At the time, he was known primarily as M.I.A.’s chief collaborator, and former lover, who brilliantly chopped up The Clash’s dub-influenced “Straight To Hell” for Maya’s smash single “Paper Planes.” He had yet to become one of the most sought after producer/DJs on the planet, and the tidal wave of EDM popularity that would facilitate Major Lazer’s rise was still percolating in Beatport comments sections.

Fast forward six years, two albums and a handful of dance chart hits, and Major Lazer is a summer festival staple, Switch is out of the picture, Diplo has discussed retiring “Diplo” material once and for all and there’s even a Major Lazer cartoon (which is legitimately awesome). So for the release of Major Lazer’s third proper album Peace Is The Mission (out ), the project is no longer a faceless producer’s pet mixtape, and the deep-digging, dancehall-reggaeton survey that drove the act’s earlier efforts has been pushed to the background. At their core, ML’s first two albums — 2009’s Guns Don’t Kill People…Lazers Do and 2013’s Free The Universe — were hyperactive, hyperbolic and excited to share this music with the world. A club music nerd’s nirvana, basically. That philosophy has been replaced with the calculated perspective of an A&R executive.

On PeaceDiplo streamlined his more experimental tendencies for less inventive production, bringing in famous collaborators like Ellie Goulding and 2 Chainz, while sanding down the album’s actual reggaeton/dancehall contributions — from acts like Nyla, Chronixx and Tarrus Riley — to the point where even the best moments don’t hit as hard as they should. At this stage of the Major Lazer life cycle, Caribbean dance music culture is just another color on the palette, not a defining ethos. It’s a development that feels less like artistic evolution and more like the accumulated effects of Diplo’s ever-rising station and curatorial power.

That sacrifice doesn’t mean Peace Is The Mission is a bad dance record. In fact, few DJ/producers can hold a candle to Diplo’s consistently excellent song construction, and nearly every track on this album blows away standard Hot 100 radio fodder. The cruising first single “Lean On,” featuring and DJ Snake, is a legitimate candidate for song of the summer. The Ellie Goulding-propelled “Powerful” is a gorgeous pop song that sounds like it’s ringing out through Brazilian favelas late in the night, with Tarrus Riley’s incredible voice crushing the chorus. “Night Riders” uses flourishes of reggaeton, specifically Jamaican native Mad Cobra’s warbly hook and Travi$ Scott’s restless production, to calibrate a dark and dirty atmosphere for 2 Chainz and Pusha T‘s sneers.

The album’s most explicitly island-influenced tracks — the joyously bouncing “Too Original” featuring Elliphant and Jovi Rockwell and “Light It Up” featuring Nyla — are, unsurprisingly, its most banging and transportive. Coupled together, the songs are a snapshot of what Peace Is The Mission could have been had Major Lazer built on the foundation of the last two albums and worked to create colorful, exuberant dancehall that skirts the usual beats of contemporary dance music. But now that Diplo is on the verge of merging his professional persona with the monster he created in Major Lazer, it’s hard to say what his future as an artist will look like. If his Skrillex collab Jack Ü and Peace Is The Mission are any indicator of what’s to come, he’ll be producing solid mainstream dance music for the foreseeable future. And that will be a mild disappointment.

Idolator Score: 3/5

Patrick Bowman