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Diplo - Diplo Presents Thomas Wesley Chapter 1: Snake Oil Music Album Reviews

Trickled down from the success of “Old Town Road” and the meme-level pervasiveness of the yeehaw agenda, the ubiquitous producer’s purported country album suffocates in treacly kitsch.

For every Diplo that you see—slouched on a Zoom DJ set in a shirt that says “Mercury’s in quarantine,” slack-jawed on a red carpet in a bright pink cowboy hat—there are maybe five Diplos you don’t see. There he is, folded into Jack Ü, working with Skrillex to make the best song of Justin Bieber’s career. Catch him in the Mark Ronson collab group Silk City, throwing throbbing beats under a Dua Lipa track. You could be forgiven for not knowing Diplo is part of Major Lazer, or that he toured with Grimes on a train across Canada, or that he produced two songs on Beyoncé’s Lemonade. And if you lost track of who ended up on which remix of Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road” as the song contorted into genre after genre (K-pop! Kidz Bop!), maybe you forgot that Diplo was the one to make it shiver and surge into electronica.
Diplo is aware of his tendency to be both ubiquitous and forgotten; he named a 2014 album Random White Dude Be Everywhere. His new album, a purported country record trickled down from the success of “Old Town Road” and the meme-level pervasiveness of the yeehaw agenda, has his real name in the title, signifying a shift from sparkly club bangers. Snake Oil is a country album the same way Westworld is a western, or “Cotton Eye Joe” is a saloon ballad. The record is steeped in stock-image cowboy aesthetics. A fiddle trembles through AutoTune. “Uh, uh, do si do,” Blanco Brown grunts, 18 times in two and a half minutes. In Diplo’s world, the Jonas Brothers are as convincing a country group as the Zac Brown Band; they bleat about hometowns, back roads, and “giving into love,” while crawling guitars give into beat drops and blurry synths. But Diplo succeeds in what he sets out to do: He braids classic Diploisms into country frameworks, and sometimes, he doesn’t sound like Diplo at all.
Such is the case on the best song on the album, “On Mine,” a gentle, rasping Noah Cyrus love song. The production borders on theatrical—melodramatic wobbling bass, a chorus of layered vocals, seconds-long cymbal reverb echoing at the end—but this is still Diplo at his most subdued. “I don’t know if I can walk this world alone,” Cyrus pleads. The chorus rises in a swelling mash of instruments; it’s close to sounding genuinely euphoric, a mood Diplo typically reserves for juddering bass-blasted rave tracks. On “Dance With Me,” he coaxes strumming guitars into muted tropical house as Young Thug snakes around the beat and country-pop songwriter Thomas Rhett croons, “Give me your body.” It’s as danceable and easily dissolved as any summertime Top 40 radio hit.

You don’t listen to a Diplo album for the songwriting, and Snake Oil suffocates in treacly kitsch. Song titles betray the generic romance clichés: “Heartless,” “Heartbreak,” “Real Life Stuff.” “I guess what goes up, it must come down,” Ben Burgess drawls over trudging 808s. “Just because you’re out here running doesn’t make you free,” cries the country singer Cam. “Sometimes in life, what you wanna do isn’t necessarily what you’re gonna do,” Orville Peck says on the album’s intro, a 97-second spoken-word mush of countryisms about gunslinger showdowns and desert hideouts. It’s meant to be funny, and it is: This is Thomas Wesley’s playground, and success isn’t measured by whether his country songs are convincing or even by whether they’re good, only by whether the listener has fun. Still, the closing “Old Town Road” remix feels like a reprieve from the rest of the album, not a template for it. You want to stay in this thumping oasis, a place where Billy Ray Cyrus moans about Fenty sports bras and whistles whirl around the beat, buoyed by the simple neon ecstasy of Diplo doing what Diplo does best: soundtracking the party, wherever it leads.

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