“What type of music is the Gorillaz?”
This question was asked of me about a week ago at a stranger’s apartment.
I first heard this question when “Demon Days” was released in 2005 and again when “Plastic Beach” came out in 2010. Both times, I did not know how to adequately answer that question.
Well, now it is 2017, Gorillaz have released “Humanz” and I still do not know how to answer that question. Whatever answer I gave that night in the apartment probably was not the best.
Unique music is probably what I should have just said. How else do you explain the sound that comes from a virtual band that collaborates with musicians across all genres?
“Humanz” is no exception to that uniqueness.
The 26-track album comes in at a little over one hour, which includes narrative interludes between many of the songs.
The theme of the album is a sort of end of the world dance party. At least, that is the idea Damon Albarn pitched to collaborators when working on the album. Albarn wanted “Humanz” to be a response to the Donald Trump presidential win and he wanted to see what that world looked like.
As fun and interesting as it is to listen to the album, it is debatable whether the music is truly the political response that Albarn claims it is.
The musical content of the album certainly reflects uncertainty and confusion with many of the glitchy and dizzying instrumentals. This is perhaps a reflection of the world Albarn sees us to be living in. This is best exemplified in tracks like “Carnival” and “Saturnz Barz.” The latter of the two songs features Jamaican artist Popcaan and it plays with traditional elements of Jamaican dancehall music. For a broader audience here in the states, it will be wildly unfamiliar yet oddly inviting.
The pop tracks like “Submission” and “Momentz” are fast paced and dance heavy, whereas a track like “Ascension” invites anxiety to do as the name implies. Vince Staples’ lyrics on “Ascension” perhaps illustrate the album’s doomsday theme the best out of all the tracks. However, the haunting voice of Benjamin Clementine on “Hallelujah Money” comes in as a close second for spinning the doomsday narrative, yet overall the song feels a little bit too forced and exaggerated as if to make up for the rest of the album’s vague callouts to America’s political climate. Nonetheless, Clementine’s voice is reason enough to keep going back for a listen.
It could be argued that dark and haunting themes are what the Gorillaz are known for playing with. Choosing to mix those themes more with soulful vocals this time around instead of hip-hop greatly enhances the creepy and powerful effect of the songs. “Let Me Out” does this well with both gospel singer Mavis Staples and rapper Pusha T, but Rag’n’Bone Man is also a standout vocalist on “The Apprentice.”
With 16 featured artists, Albarn’s presence on the album is used appropriately, but is felt lightly. However, “Busted and Blue” belongs entirely to Albarn. There is no featured artist on the track whatsoever. It heavily echoes his solo album, “Everyday Robots,” with its somber and melodic vocals and it really stands out in comparison to the rest of “Humanz.”
Should you listen to it? Yes!
To be honest, “Humanz” is not exactly an easy listen for someone unfamiliar with the band. For someone going in completely cold, it will probably not make a whole lot of sense and will seem all over the place. That is not to say that there are not inviting tracks on the album that you cannot help but dance to. “Andromeda” features the work of D.R.A.M. and it perfectly balances a spacey, yet energized electronic dance party. For more exciting dance fun, “Strobelight” is an incredibly accessible track to groove to. The themes of a post-apocalyptic dance party are audible, yet it is not entirely accurate to say that this is a true political response to the election. Regardless, play around with the album a few times and you are bound to find something that caters to your tastes.
Collegian reporter Zach Bermejo can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @zach_bermejo.