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Major Lazer's image has always been a bit slippery. Having gone through a number of member and affiliate changes since UK producer Switch—one half of the founding production team, along with Diplo—jumped ship in 2011, their ever-evolving mission has been confusing, sloppy, and not entirely easy to nail down. Their debut album Guns Don't Kill People... Lazers Do was a singular artifact of Diplo's fascination with global dance music, for lack of a better catchall, for which he is often called out as an appropriator. Despite the fact that he and Switch worked on the album in Kingston and recruited dancehall bona fides for every track, from icons like Vybz Kartel and Mr. Vegas to up-and-comers like Brooklyn bashment luminary Ricky Blaze, it was still sticky with an undercurrent of tourism.
But with all of the pitfalls Major Lazer has faced since its inception—solo Diplo's hypeman Skerrit Bwoy's departure for religious pursuits; mismatched guests like Dirty Projectors' Amber Coffman and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend for sophomore album Free the Universe—Peace Is the Mission finds the group finally emerging from their cocoon. What helped to pierce them out of a murky, genre-blurring funk, it turns out, was the confidence (and perhaps the notoriety and resources) to cash in and go full pop.
Even though Diplo already had work with major pop stars on his CV (namely, Beyoncé's "Pon De Floor"-sampling "Run the World (Girls)" and on Madonna's recent Rebel Heart), it was Major Lazer's inclusion on the Lorde-curated soundtrack for The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 that truly marked this sea change. Their contribution, "All My Love" featuring Ariana Grande, maintained their penchant for dancehall-inflected festival dubstep and worked in a winky interpolation of "Lollipop (Candyman)" by Aqua (yes, the "Barbie Girl" group), all with a much slicker sheen. The song could have been just another paycheck, a chance to go for polish on a non-album project while staying esoteric with their own work, but lead single "Lean On", a collaboration with Danish upstart MØ and DJ Snake of "Turn Down for What" fame, indicated that they were sticking to this new refinement.
These tracks also illustrate what Major Lazer excel at: crafting intricate, innovative EDM for honey-voiced singers that pushes boundaries people like David Guetta and Calvin Harrisseemingly refuse to touch. Album opener "Be Together" with Chicago sibling duo Wild Belle combines breathless yearning and skittering percussion in a way that sounds new, while the warbled soul of "Powerful", featuring vocals from Ellie Goulding and reggae artist Tarrus Riley, swoons in a way we don't expect from the production trio. With his performance, stripped of patois and giving every Top 40 pretty boy a run for his money, Riley offers the album's best example of Major Lazer's ability to synthesize their influences. Where the previous two full-lengths tried to mesh opposing forces, here, they are finessed into no-nonsense stadium rattlers. Riley can master an EDM power-ballad, while the menace of a rapper like Pusha T meets its match with dancehall vet Mad Cobra on "Night Riders". Even a refreshed "All My Love" benefits from additional vocals from soca singer Machel Montano.
"Lean On" and "Powerful" will likely end up the big hits of Peace, but tracks like "Too Original" with Jovi Rockwell and Swedish singer Elliphant, "Light It Up" featuring a guest appearance from R&B-reggae duo Brick and Lace's Nyla, and Chronixx-featuring "Blaze Up the Fire" also show a group locating its footing. They accomplish the, well, mission the group has trained its sights on since its genesis—and it's because they've linked with artists who also deal in fusion. They're not forcing it. There is no doubt Peace Is the Mission will suffer some criticism from dancehall purists, those exhausted by EDM and people who hate Diplo (a hate that he has certainly worked overtime to earn), but their maturation is palpable across the album's nine tracks. In the process, they've made a great pop record through uniting some of the globe's most exciting and celebrated pop artists.