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Gorillaz’ ‘Song Machine’ is an ambitious project and instant classic

Gorillaz’ ‘Song Machine’ is an ambitious project and instant classic

Gorillaz’ ‘Song Machine’ is an ambitious project and instant classic
October 27
19:03 2020

Gorillaz began in 1998 as a collaborative effort between Blur frontman Damon Albarn and “Tank Girl” comic artist Jamie Hewlett. The idea for the project centers around Gorillaz being a virtual band made up of cartoon characters — 2-D, Murdoc Niccals, Noodle, and Russel Hobbs.

At the time of the formation of Gorillaz, Albarn was struggling with the celebrity that came from his successful Britpop career with Blur. Gorillaz allowed Albarn to obscure himself with the anonymity granted from being the voice behind 2-D. It also gave him the opportunity to experiment with musical styles that were not appropriate with Blur.

“Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez” is Gorillaz’ seventh studio album and the band is as ambitious as ever. The concept for the album is that every track is intended to be a single that would be played on the radio. The project premiered on Jan. 30, 2020 with the release of the song “Momentary Bliss.” Since then, eight other tracks have been released at a rate of one song every two months.

“It’s one of the best albums I’ve ever made. It’s really strong because every tune has that single intention to it,” Albarn told Music Week.

Albarn’s production is immaculate with every track featuring a guest. The ensemble of musicians is comprised of Elton John, JPEGMAFIA, Beck and 21 other artists. Albarn’s role in the production of “Song Machine” is similar to a tailor who fashions pop melodies and colorful synths that perfectly complement the aesthetic of each respective artist.

The album begins with disjointed keys from the title track “Strange Timez.” Robert Smith from the gothic rock band The Cure delivers his signature eccentric vocals that juxtapose well with Albarn’s voice distortion that makes him sound like 2-D. The tension of the song builds with eerie synths and spontaneously shifts to a well-textured tune filled with distorted trumpet and dance beats.

“Valley of the Pagans” features a classic performance from Beck over a bouncy bass and drums. The track is made complete with Beck’s signature style of nonsensical lyrics — “She’s a plastic Cleopatra on a throne of ice. She’s a hemophiliac with a dying battery life.”

The next song “The Lost Chord” is Albarn’s take on Britfunk with a vocal performance from Leee John. The song could have been fleshed out more, but it does not overstay its welcome.

ScHoolboy Q appears on the track “Pac-Man” with a production style reminiscent of “Demon Days.” Musically, the track is comprised of a retro bass and electronic beeps that would be found on an arcade machine. The song breaks down into a cacophony of Albarn repeating the lyrics “stressing out.” This peels away introducing ScHoolboy Q’s performance that he delivers with a fierce bite.

“Chalk Tablet Towers” has featured guest St. Vincent’s backing vocals and assistance in the musical production. The synth motif and deliberate overuse of autotune on Albarn’s vocals manufacture the song as an upbeat pop anthem.

The high energy of the previous track transitions into the heartbroken tone of “The Pink Phantom.” This track features both the legendary pianist John and Atlanta born rapper 6LACK. Albarn trades off comfortably with the two and the trio comes together for a breathtaking harmonization near the song’s end.

Lulling guitar and ’80s snare loops appear on the new wave inspired song “Aries.” Albarn’s performance is soothing over the musical production of New Order bassist Peter Hook.

“Friday 13th” is a dub-reggae song infused with vibrant horns and booming bass. Octavian delivers coarse vocals that transition into Albarn’s reserved vocal performance of the song.

Gorillaz’ veteran and British rapper Kano reappears alongside Roxani Arias on “Dead Butterflies.” The opening is chaotic with the sound of all the keys on a piano being smashed at once. Albarn can be heard saying, “Can we leave that last piano part in?” This shows how the album remains loose and fun while still having tight production. Kano’s delivery is smooth and Arias sings in both Spanish and English over an energetic pop bass.

Those who have been following “Song Machine” will be surprised by “Désolé” since the album rendition is the extended version. A moving bass riff drives the song, along with Mali singer Fatoumata Diawara’s breathtaking vocals. The song progresses into a roaring brass performance and longing lyrics delivered in French.

“Momentary Bliss” was the first song released in the “Song Machine” project and it is the last track of the normal album. It is a U.K. punk rock melody infused with hip-hop. The chorus is blaring and the screaming guitar makes for an incredibly fun song. It is embellished with vocals far back in the mix of Albarn playfully singing lyrics from The Beatles’ “Lovely Rita.”

The deluxe edition of “Song Machine” has six other bonus tracks. “Opium” featuring EarthGang and “MLS” featuring JPEGMAFIA stand out in particular. Albarn’s vocals are less prominent on the bonus tracks, but the existence of these songs does not detract from the main album. In fact, they are a great addition to any Gorillaz fan desiring more.

The production of “Song Machine” is impeccable. Every guest is appropriately utilized and each song experiments with a particular genre. This diversity has something for listeners of any music taste. The album is full of personality and vibrancy that is unexcelled by any recent Gorillaz album. “Song Machine” is a grandiose project that is executed flawlessly, making the album an instant classic.

Gorillaz fans waiting for more can expect a “Song Machine, Season Two,” which Albarn confirmed will be coming very soon. Gorillaz has also signed a movie deal with Netflix slated for 2022.

Final rating: 4.5/5

Featured image: Courtesy Gorillaz Productions

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Brett Davis

Brett Davis

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