Diplo – Diplo

It seems that highly prolific DJ and electronic musician Diplo’s mind is in the right place when it comes to his approach to crafting an album while working in his genre – he’s made quite a few comments lately about the futility of crafting a truly engaging electronic album from front to back, opting instead for a seamless listening experience that mirrors what would blast over the speakers at a nightclub. While this is technically only his third solo project, Diplo has been a proven hitmaker for over a decade and his instincts at churning out a serviceable pop track are second-to-none. However, it seems that strangely enough Diplo has saved some of his most undercooked ideas for the project he finally decided to give the self-titled label. Collaborating with both bigger names and rising talent both behind the boards and on the mic, there are a couple shining hooks and engaging beats that break through, but most of these tracks feel like the Diplo formula on auto-pilot.

The opening track “Don’t Forget My Love” is the album’s standout, reminiscent of a massive 80s power-pop dance hit with its shuffling percussion and striking piano chords. The always suave and charismatic Miguel appears as the guest vocalist, and while the track honestly feels like it’s holding him back from reaching the true vocal heights we know he can deliver, his breathless and pleading delivery is a nice complement to the funky central guitar hook and he breezes through the speedier verses. The quick tempo of the track sets the pace immediately for the danceable tracks to come. The next track “High Rise,” on the other hand, feels almost as if Diplo crafted these two in the same brainstorming session and left them right beside each other instead of choosing the best one. Another smooth-talking and slightly tropical dance track with a big R&B singer – in this case, Leon Bridges – the track doesn’t have nearly as strong of a hook vocally or instrumentally. “Your Eyes” continues with similar instrumental palates as Diplo invites the newest Major Lazer member Ape Drums, known for Caribbean and dancehall mixes, onto the track and continues with the slightly tribal, driving percussion patterns, but this one has a distinctive and memorable vocal and hook to make it stand out from the pack. Australian singer RY X’s shimmering, filtered and echoey falsetto gives off the track’s feeling of romance just out of reach.

As the tracks go on, the formulae begin to get increasingly evident. “One By One” features a hook from singer Elderbrook that’s certainly catchy, but feels highly similar to a host of other pop tracks. Diplo’s been in the hitmaking business long enough to know the science behind this stuff, and sometimes it’s science for a reason – the ethereal synth flitting around in the background and some more industrial material serving as the anchor are some more experimental choices that make it stand out from the blander material here as well, like the next track “Promises.” Diplo has mentioned that the process involved writing pop songs first, then turning them into dance songs, and that’s never more evident than here – he did just that with the simplest possible steps, just adding a quick, syncopated synth chord and a big bassline behind a relatively faceless hook from Kareen Lomax, who shows up a couple times here. From there, we get back-to-back tracks featuring very different hip-hop stars, to expectedly different result. “Right 2 Left” could have been pushed over the edge by an actual verse from Busta Rhymes, but as it is it stands as a chaotic rager of the highest order as Diplo takes one of Busta’s famously speedy lines and charges up the track’s tempo to match, the breakbeats at the forefront of the mix that would send any club into hysterics. “Humble” features Lil Yachty over another Diplo dance mix that he could likely churn out in a couple minutes, with a bizarrely filtered, barely audible performance from the warbly rap star – with how awkward it sounds here, it honestly sounds like it was ripped from a different song that was sent over, but Diplo didn’t want to pass up the feature opportunity.

As the album progresses into its second half, even some of the standout tracks start to feel like Diplo is more so capitalizing on the nostalgic trends of modern pop and pulling directly from distinct areas than creating anything truly novel. “Don’t Be Afraid,” on the surface, contains an alluring and icy descending synth line until you realize that it’s an extremely similar tone to other EDM tracks of yesteryear where you’ve already heard it working wonders. “On My Mind,” at least, is more or less a Diplo remix of an older track, being the late-90s R&B girl-group hit “Steelo” by 702 and Missy Elliott, so that he can add his own spin on things. Isolating the catchiest lines, speeding things up and adding a great bassline, it’s certainly a repetitive track, but it would fit right at home on a great club mix. Another tried-and-true EDM sound to mine is the compelling sound of Aluna of AlunaGeorge’s distinctive vocals, and the duo appear on “Forget About Me – Nite Version,” an alternate version of a track they dropped with Diplo earlier this year. While the instrumental is otherwise pretty bland, her vocals certainly do help to liven things up on the longest, most hypnotic and club-ready track here. You can’t say the same for “Let You Go,” another track full of syncopated, pounding synth chords and another forgettable appearance from Kareen Lomax.

The album concludes with a couple more extended mixes, but there’s nothing nearly as high-impact as the earlier goings. “Make You Happy” and “Waiting for You” both extend past 4 minutes, but neither prove rewarding for the active listener – the former features some of the weakest vocals on the album from Danish indie-pop trio WhoMadeWho, while the latter contains some extended spoken-word passages over a familiar-sounding trance-style instrumental that break up the energy for far too long. The closer “Looking for Me” feels once again very similar to the other Kareen Lomax appearances, but it’s likely the best of the three as the less cluttered instrumental gives everything more room to breathe and Lomax delivers some engaging vocal runs.  

Whatever spinoff project Diplo is sure to hop on next, it’s likely to contain a lot more heart than this one – it seems like he applies himself the most when trying to fit into a more specific sound or theme than a self-titled solo project leaving the door open for just about anything. Regardless, there’s almost 100% certainty that you’ll be nodding your head to something he was involved with in the near future.

Favourite Tracks: Don’t Forget My Love, Right 2 Left, Your Eyes, On My Mind

Least Favourite Track: Humble

Score: 5/10

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