In their new album “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez,” everybody’s favorite postmodern virtual band Gorillaz seeks to create an experience using a cacophony of unlikely pairings of sounds and styles to guide the listener through a wild journey of sounds.
The titular trio behind the Gorillaz have been pumping out record after record for this project for quite some time now, with the first single “Momentary Bliss” surfacing and breaking the silence on the previously mysterious project back in late January of this year. The song came from out of the blue, with Gorillaz seamlessly integrating surprise feature artists Slowthai and Slaves into this new-age rock / funk-synth piece. The song starts off mellow enough with a catchy flow of a set of traditional Gorillaz vocals, but suddenly, the middle of the song sweeps a listener off their feet and tosses them down a rabbit hole of hectic guitar riffs. The jarring mix of these artists’ sounds is simply full to the brim with chaotic energy, and this is perhaps why “Momentary Bliss” is the perfect start to the Song Machine Album.
Gorillaz kept with this theme of meshing unlikely duos of features in its subsequent additions to “Song Machine”, releasing each of the songs at highly sporadic time intervals throughout the year to add to the chaotic vibe of the album. A press release notes that this is highly intentional of the band, where the album stands “in direct opposition to the usual traditional recording/single/album release cycle,” a common talking point of annoyance for the band’s members. And to make the gradual release of this album’s music even more interesting, the virtual band has really outdone itself with the parallel releases of its mixed-reality “episode-style” line of music videos and production interviews, which seemingly have nothing to do with the songs on the album. The Gorillaz’s iconic characters 2-D, Russel, Murdock and Noodle make a return in cleaner-looking cartoon fashion, adding another level of complexity to the musical experience that is “Song Machine.”
Episode 2 of “Song Machine,” called “Désolé,” takes a much more laid-back tempo and composure compared to its predecessor, utilizing surging synths to provide backing to the elegant French-Malian singer Fatoumata Dawara’s featured vocals. Tied together with a moving strings recursion and upbeat baseline, this song is a must-listen on the album, setting up for the joyride of fun, new angles of music to come. Episode 3, “Aires,” doubles down on the emphasis for synths and summertime baselines to concoct a delightful dip into the ‘70s, only to take this vibe and throw it for a loop in “Friday the 13th” featuring Octavian. Octavian’s melodic yet hip-hop evoking vocals, backed with light piano, funky trumpets and hi-hats can be best described as a hypnotic trip to just sit back and enjoy. Then comes ScHoolboy Q featured in Episode 5’s “PAC-MAN”, and boy, does he hit like a train. The song utilizes a synth to draw listeners into a false sense of echoing security, throwing in some discordant tones to build tension for good measure. Then, Q takes the song by the reins with a bittersweet rap style, and flips the whole song on its head, largely replacing synth with a slapping drum loop.
With this constant flux of semi-synthesized hip-hop, rock and everything in between, channeled by a fresh lineup of awesomely unique feature artists (including ELTON JOHN and 6LACK on Episode 7, Pink Phantom), “Song Machine” is the hectic flow of innovation that just doesn’t stop. Perhaps put best by Gorillaz’s own drummer Russel Hobbs, “’Song Machine’ is a whole new way of doing what we do. Gorillaz breaking the mold ‘cos the mold got old… Song Machine feeds on the unknown, runs on pure chaos.” Leave it to the Gorillaz to turn chaos into a trademark!