Initially, the notion behind Major Lazer - two white guys putting out a dancehall record - sounds a bit silly. But while DJs Diplo and Switch are not exactly veterans of the genre, they are not completely out of their element. It was them at the helm of M.I.A.'s dancehall inflected hit single Paper Planes which exploded early last year, and then there are the numerous baile funk mixes that Diplo released following a trip to Rio de Janeiro, and Switch's highly varied and extensive remix work. Still, even without that in mind - if ever they felt out of their element during this album's production, you'd never know it. The beats carry an unbridled confidence, and rightfully so; despite an ever so slight slump in the middle (and only because the rest is so consistently flooring), the muscular beats are strong enough to make you move and the smoother ones still have a great groove to them. Not only that, but quite a list of Jamaican (among other) vocalists was assembled, and just about everyone is given their chance to shine.
Guns Don't Kill starts off with the Mr. Lexx and Santigold-led opening of Hold the Line establishes the mood perfectly; aggressive yet unrelentlingly melodic beat with random sounds coming from everywhere, yet all fitting in perfectly. Cell phone rings, breaking glass, cat calls, smacking lips, and that's just what I can remember off the top of my head. The steady beat continues as Ms. Thing takes over on the even more arresting When You Hear the Bassline, with the production altering her voice at every turn.
The gorgeous rocksteady (I can't say that without referencing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles) groove of Can't Stop Now is crooned over by both Mr. Vegas and Jovi Rockwell, who each do an outstanding job. The beat is alluring all on its own with its understated quirks, but it's the vocal harmonies that steal the show. The energy explodes again immediately after with Lazer Theme's incredibly bold bass line, which rocks hard with Future Trouble's aggressive flow over it for two and a half minutes that never feel long enough.
Anything Goes and Cash Flow are good in their own respect, in fact they're great. Both songs are solid, textbook dancehall, but after the astonishing first four tracks, while they don't quite interrupt the album's flow or fail to keep things going, they just can't help but feel like slight let-downs. Things pick right back up though with Mary Jane, which, as the title suggests, is an unexpectedly charming ode to marijuana. The blazingly fast (har har) beat sees Mr. Evil and Mapei singing of their botanic love with Diplo and Switch shooting random shit off in the background to top the already rousing beat. At least for me, this was the first time a line like "Roll it, smoke it, light it up" has ever sounded genuinely fun and not trying to look cool, like "duuuude let's smoke some weeeeeeeeed."
While the graphic What U Like is good all around, Amanda Blank is disappointingly... well, she's practically absent entirely. Einstein has a great flow to be sure, but a battle between the two would have been amazing; one would think this song to be right up her alley, given her aggressively sexual material. Up next is the album's peak, the R&B meets trance Keep It Goin' Louder and the glitch happy Pon De Floor. The former is a textbook summer dance song, whose lack of single promotion is downright criminal, while Pon is an equally rousing with its creative voice manipulation and chopped up drums. Guns Don't Kill ends strong with a baby with built in autotune and the thumping house informed finale of Jump Up. Leftside and Supahype rap and shout out throughout, though the heavily layered and danceable track could probably stand alone even without the spice they toss in.
Guns Don't Kill... Lazers Do has energy and charm to spare. It's an excellent introduction to the dancehall genre as well, which is one that I admittedly know jack shit about. Insanely catchy, ridiculously fun, and easily one of the most charismatic albums of the year. I can't recommend this one enough.