So is this the new thing in music? An artist releasing several videos on YouTube from a forthcoming album on the same day, a number that exceeds the traditional three or four singles that are released over a period spanning about a year and a half? A sign of the times, in which the internet is number one. Do people even watch music channels these days? Metallica did the very same thing a few months back when they dropped their actually rather great ‘Hardwired…To Self Destruct’ LP.
And so have Gorillaz. Personally I have always been of the opinion that Damon Albarn, for his musical jack of all trades modi operandi, will never surpass his crowning moments with Blur. He will never write a song that is better than ‘The Universal’ or ‘This Is A Low’ or ‘Tender.’ He just won’t, but then neither will most songwriters for that matter. With that said, I can still enjoy Gorillaz. ‘Clint Eastwood’ and ‘Rock The House’ hold up very well to this day, as they did when I was ten years old and actually did watch music channels, a lot. Always more genre fluid than Blur ever was, there has always been some very interesting musical ideas behind the cartoon band avatars.
Yesterday they put out four new songs from their forthcoming fourth album (in sixteen years), the cryptically named ‘Humanz’. Damon Albarn and friends are back on the scene.
I can’t remember where – it may have even been a YouTube video comments section, wisdom from the gutter and all that – but I once read someone brilliantly and succinctly describe New Order as “melancholy on the dancefloor.”
That could easily apply to ‘Andromeda’ too. Kinda deep house-ish, with a whoomp-ing 2007 style bassline-esque bassline (Poor turn of phrase there, but you remember T2’s ‘Heartbroken’, don’t you?), it also possesses a high pitched melody which weirdly recalls The Black Keys’ ‘Fever.’ Like with New Order when they were firing on all cylinders, you listen to this song and you’re unsure whether you should get up and dance, or sit and just brood. It’s the sound of the lonesome late night.
The sound is good, but the song does feel like it doesn’t plan on going anywhere. It’s rather comfortable in that rhythm, a bit too comfortable, and when it comes to the chorus, Damon is quite content to sing “take it in your heart” plenty of times and just leave it at that.
Overall though, it is a nice, simple catchy song, just not Damon’s most adventurous number.
Rating outta ten: A solid six
I always enjoy rap songs set to backing beats that aren’t just the traditional slow-ish funky groove. N.W.A.’s ‘100 Miles And Runnin” is a classic example of how good this aversion can be.
Vince Staples leads the way on ‘Ascension.’ Admittedly I’m not hugely familiar with his work as a rapper, but his flow on here makes me want to explore more of his stuff, because he’s good. His flow is tight and loyal to the rhythm, very militant, and his delivery is clear and coherent. Veering into socially conscious wordplay, he describes America as a place “where you can live your dreams long as you don’t look like me/Be a puppet on a string, hanging from a fucking tree.” I am slightly reminded of classic era Ice Cube, although, as is the case with most people on the planet, he is not quite as angry.
All this is laid out in front of an eerie breakbeat style backdrop. Claustrophobic bass riffs and creepy high pitch synth notes lurk about as the off-kilter drumming drives the song. It’s straight from the Death Grips school of slightly scary post-hip hop. There’s something rather unsettling about how confident and focussed Staples sounds in front of all this chaos. It’s like he’s thriving on the destruction around him, crowning himself king.
Rating outta ten: A satisfying seven
I’ll get this out of the way. I really, really don’t like autotune. When I hear an autotuned vocalist, I’m reminded of those nights out I would go on in the late ’00s, where I would end up in some awful bar or club that sold overpriced lager and played the worst of chart music. Sorry, but it just sounds tacky.
Not many artists really use it so much these days, which makes me wonder, are we already having a late ’00s revival in this song? We’ve already passed the early ’00s revival with Royal Blood and Palma Violets after all.
Anyway, I’m rambling on a bit here. The song is spacey in sound, laid back with it’s minimalistic nu-dub bassline and subtle drum beat. Popcaan takes centre stage with his dancehall style vocals – and when the autotune is turned off, he’s quite enjoyable to listen to. Every once in a while whirring g-funk style synths can be heard, which for me is a nice touch.
Again, like ‘Andromeda’, the music has an interesting sound but it doesn’t really go anywhere. I can imagine ‘Saturnz Bars’ would make perfect background music for when you’re just chilling with your friends somewhere, rather than something you would crank up at a party.
Rating outta ten: A fair five
‘We Got The Power’
One thing Damon has always had, is the power of being catchy. That is his specialty, and it has played a huge part in forging a prosperous career that has spanned around twenty five years.
It’s a shame that the main hook of this song is rather corny in its words. “We got the power to be loving each other no matter what happens/We got the power to do that.” It’s just a futile statement, which sounds like it was penned by a GCSE student. Nonetheless, it is something of an earworm, and the gospel style vocal arrangements are pretty cool.
For me, Savages are one of the best bands to emerge from the UK over the past few years, so I was interested to hear what Jehnny Beth’s contribution would sound like. Her familiar emotional tightrope vocals work weirdly well amidst the uplifting nature of the song.
I’m not surprised to see that it’s listed as the closing track to ‘Humanz’, as it just has that natural album closer feel about it, you know what I mean? It has the grandiose, outstanding feel that should automatically place it at the end of a record, going out on a high.
Rating outta ten: A satisfying seven