Sia, Diplo And Labrinth’s Album ‘LSD’ Is A Trip, For Better Or Worse
Clocking just under 30 minutes, LSD's debut is a microdose. Even still, is it worth the risk?
In the world of professional wrestling, there’s a term that those in the know use for a match: Getting your shit in.
You only have a finite amount of time in the spotlight, and you want to make as much of an impact as possible. If you’re able to get across all of your big moves before the bell rings, then you have officially gotten your shit in. And with a run-time that only just crosses the 30-minute mark, the self-titled debut album from supergroup LSD – that’s Labrinth, Sia and Diplo – is an exercise in getting your shit in.
It’s an album that serves as an ambitious crossover between three artists that are at decidedly different points in their career, and as such relies on their key strengths as individuals to succeed on a united front. But how does each fare in the throes of the LP? And, more importantly, is this LSD a good time or a bad trip?
Enter The Labrinth
To put it bluntly, the English singer born Tim McKenzie is the least well-known out of LSD’s three members.
He’s had some success in his homeland, scoring a co-sign from Simon Cowell and notching up four top-ten singles in the early 2010s – two of which, ‘Earthquake’ and ‘Beneath Your Beautiful’, also reached the top ten here in Australia. In the last few years, however, Labrinth has largely flown under the radar and instead has gone back behind the scenes as a co-writer and producer for the likes of Ed Sheeran, The Weeknd and Nicki Minaj.
It’s with this that LSD ostensibly serves as a formal re-introduction of Labrinth as a featured artist – particularly to North America, where he never scored a hit on the same level as he did in the UK. The album serves as a real showcase for his vocal talents in particular, ranging from dancehall-style toasting to a soulful rnb croon.
Working with the giants of the pop world has given McKenzie a proper sense of melody and accessibility, and indeed how the two are inextricably linked when it comes to getting a hook in. The playful stutter of ‘Genius’ (read: ‘Ge-ge-ge-ge-ge-ge-genius’) is guaranteed to stick in the brain long after the song finishes, while his turn on the chorus of ‘Thunderclouds’ lets loose his inner Otis Redding over an arrangement that’s equal parts 1969 and 2019.
If this album allows him to branch out once again as a solo performer, it will be entirely deserved.
It’s Good To Sia
Adelaide’s own Sia Furler hasn’t made a collaborative album of this type since 2006 with Zero 7, The Garden – and even then, she was only properly on half of the LP.
Of course, the entire nature of how Sia has worked over the years – particularly going into her wig-toting anonymous phase in the last decade – has relied on collaboration. In nearly every single instance, however, Furler is centred upon as the featured artist (putting aside, of course, her songwriting for other artists). LSD, in many ways, feels like the first album to feature Sia as a team player rather than the main focus.
LSD, in many ways, feels like the first album to feature Sia as a team player rather than the main focus.
As phenomenal a vocalist as she is, the chandelier swinger has certainly been known to over-sing in the past – an issue that was particularly prevalent on her last studio album, 2016’s This is Acting. When you’re belting it out on every single track, it makes it all the less special than if you were to pick and choose your moments.
Thankfully, this is a lesson learned on Furler’s behalf. On LSD, she saves her biggest vocal runs for right up until the album’s end, nailing the chorus of ‘Heaven Can Wait’ and delivering one of her most tender performances in recent memory for the affecting ‘It’s Time.’
Elsewhere on the album, Furler plays off Labrinth in a playful and endearing duet style. While it would have been easy for the whole thing to come across as impersonal and distant, there’s a connection when the two link up that’s hard to deny – see the glitchy hook of ‘Angel in Your Eyes’ or the back-and-forth verses on ‘No New Friends’.
One can easily perceive LSD as a proving ground for Sia maintaining her place at the top of the pop food-chain. After spending nearly two decades getting there, you can’t imagine she’d be wanting to give up her perch without some sort of fight.
Let’s Be Diplo-matic
Be it through Jack Ü alongside Skrillex, Silk City alongside Mark Ronson or Major Lazer alongside Jillionaire and Walshy Fire, the 2010s has truly seen Diplo become a self-fulfilling prophecy as foretold by his 2014 compilation Random White Dude Be Everywhere.
He has been everywhere, man – and it doesn’t look as though he’s stopping anytime soon. Diplo’s sense of purpose on LSD is one of keeping up his momentum – perhaps hoping to create something as big as ‘Cold Water’ or ‘Electricity’ has been for him in the last couple of years.
It’s still too early to tell if this will eventuate, but one can be certain that it wouldn’t be for lack of trying. The veteran producer gives both Furler and McKenzie a lot to work with here, aiming for bright and sugary dance-pop without toppling over into Kidz Bop territory.
What’s perhaps the most interesting thing about Diplo is his refusal to settle on a single sound. Were you to play the singles with his fingerprints on them from even the last two or three years, only the most well-trained of audiophiles would pick up the through-line.
Diplo not originally intended to be a part of the collaboration – now, however, it’s hard to imagine it without him.
This restlessness plays into the album’s beats and production. ‘Mountains’ begins up in the clouds before landing on earth with a decisive thud. ‘No New Friends,’ too, feels like the most earnest shot at a big hit single for the trio – thanks in no small part to the rock-steady rhythm and major-chord resolution that drives it.
As someone who is never short on ideas, it’s great to see Diplo working so diligently in the fold of this trio. He was not originally intended to be a part of the collaboration between Labrinth and Sia – now, however, it’s hard to imagine it without him.
The Designer Drug?
No, LSD isn’t perfect. Certainly not. Like nearly every debut album, it presents strong ideas across the board but isn’t always 100 percent sure of itself in terms of getting it across the line.
Normally, a brief album is a great idea – the Wyoming sessions of last year and a plethora of top-tier punk and hardcore records are testament to that. It’s certainly better than a bloated 50-minute plus album, regardless.
Having said that, the fact LSD only scrapes 30 minutes on account of a Lil Wayne remix of ‘Genius’ suggests that the album needed just a bit more meat on the bone. The inconsistent mood of the track-list, too, is also indicative of an issue with cohesion that should be addressed if the three ever find the time to follow this record up.
It’s easy to be cynical about LSD. A few critics have already panned it – NPR’s Lars Gotrich, for instance, dismissed the whole group as “made to game Spotify algorithms” on All Songs Considered. His fellow correspondent, Stephen Thompson, went on to describe the album as “a Rorschach test” – meaning that the perception of it changes depending on who’s looking at it. It’s a good way of critically thinking about an album and project like LSD.
If you’ve found yourself enamoured with how these three have approached the world of pop music in the past, you’re sure to see the bright colours. If their work doesn’t impress you, there’s a good chance you’ll see some sort of melting dystopia staring back at you.
Labrinth, Sia & Diplo Present… LSD is available now.
David James Young is a writer and podcaster. He cried when he saw Sia sing ‘Breathe Me’ in 2009, and once took his shirt off in public because Diplo told him to at the 2014 Big Day Out. He’s no longer on Twitter, so just go to davidjamesyoung.com if you want to say hi.