Labrinth, Sia and Diplo Deliver Expertly Executed, Half-Hearted Pop Kitsch With ‘LSD’
The supergroup is an exciting prospect for the most wide-eyed optimists, and a readymade joke for the more acquainted. Few types of artistic endeavors justify prompt dismissal so invariably, and the much-anticipated collaboration between UK pop polymath Labrinth, distinguished diva Sia, and electronic ambassador and tastemaker Diplo. Their joint venture, “LSD” is a classic case of “my looks, your mind” going all wrong. There are enjoyable moments, although few and far between, and you can occasionally hear the sparks of brilliance that gave so much promise on paper. Ultimately, however, there’s little memorable here.
From the onset, everything is cartoonishly celebratory and silly, very much in the same spirit as the colorful cover art. A Queen-style ornate vocal harmony bit starts things off before an interjection from Sia prompts Diplo to get to his usual line of work — gritty bass, beats and synth maneuvers that remind you that this is ultimately dance music. There’s a palpable “Seargent Peppers” feel, like a band put together more for novelty and fun than anything else. Labrinth drops adlibs like an MC in the proper sense of the word. Then, “Angel In Your Eyes” starts like a muffled dancefloor track — everything clipped and held back, but still with an undeniable EDM ethos. Sia enters the mix, and her vocals are booming, but somehow the track continues understated, and in this case underwhelming.
“Genius” harks back vaguely to a certain strain of early aughts hip-hop / R&B / dancehall aesthetic, and retrofits it for the moment elegantly in a way that makes era-specific signifiers lose relevance in exchange for a smooth continuum. Aside from that, it just seems lazy in a way that makes itself steadily clearer as the album flows. “Audio” follows seamlessly, and starts out sharp enough until the bridge comes, and Sia decides to take free-range liberties with her accent adoption theatrics. It sounds, at times, part Carribean, part Latin, part Aussie — which would be lovely if it didn’t seem so garishly contrived. It’s the type of display that might make even people that normally have no problem with “cultural appropriation” feel slightly uncomfortable, based on nothing more than its awkwardness. Diplo pulls out a few of his trademark vocal sample pitch-shifting tricks, and everything is sequenced to ensure you can’t drift off.
“Thunderclouds” starts off with the same mellow, understated feel, and Sia refreshingly on top of her game. Labrinth comes in bellowing full force and sounding like a proper pop singer. In fact, everything about this song is much in the same vein, and as such, it’s an undeniable success. “Mountains” begins as a fresh change from the fireworks — a serene, dreamy duet with the two singers complementing each other for a short freeze-frame. In a flash, it erupts into another dance track with a buzzing bass that itself would make it worthwhile. Otherwise, it’s a bit silly, largely due to Labrinth, who sounds like he’s in a meditation workshop with a routine involving Hallmark greeting cards.
“No New Friends” is the point in the album at which the artists have ostensibly reasoned that anyone who has come this far must be tolerant enough. So, the trio throws all caution to the wind — in the sense that they embrace all the cliches of aforementioned tracks, now with no detectable reservations at all. It’s a shot of lite pop fixation. And it gets the job done, if that’s what you were looking for. Diplo is the real star of tracks like these, as his little accents here and there are what anchor everything else, and impart enough punch, pep, and burst to make even the tawdriest display at least something of a fun, festive outpouring. By the time of “Heaven Can Wait,” you’d have to be crazy to not acknowledge how well LSD has got this all down. This is, in a way, the ultimate product — screening, surveying, selection and seduction, all done. LSD has literally nailed everything, and brought it all. Everything instinctive — burger, taco, pizza, ice cream — all shoddy, but who cares when you have all that?
“It’s Time” finally shows Sia fully shining, although there’s a bit of dubious irony in her over-the-top melodramatic flair. The same goes with Labrinth, although in his case it seems like he’s just doing what he does. All aside, it’s a quite cinematic moment, voices soaring in tandem over a sparse piano backdrop. And it’s all the more meaningful in the context of the greater work, when you consider how seamlessly Labrinth, Sia, and Diplo have shifted gears through the recording. In retrospect, many of the songs sound like drills in contemporary pop hurdles. The dream team races to hit all the right marks, and ends up hitting them all half-heartedly, making for a tepid, perfunctory charade. There are scattered snippets when the brilliance of each conspirator comes to light, but this only brings to attention how disposable the bulk of the whole affair is by comparison. Fortunately, in a year or so, Labrinth, Sia and Diplo will most likely each have a new album of his/her own, and this bad trip will be a thing of the past.
“LSD” is available April 12 on Apple Music.