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CD of The Week

Week of 10/26/20

    Gorillaz - Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez (Warner)

    When we last heard from Gorillaz, Damon Albarn and his cartoon band released the fairly laid-back album The Now Now in the summer of 2018. Throughout 2020, 2-D & co have rolled out new tunes as part of the Song Machine project, which is being officially compiled as *deep breath* Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.

    Every single song here has a guest vocalist as Albarn pulled in some of the biggest names in his contacts list, with the very first voice you here being Robert Smith of The Cure on the swirling "Strange Timez." St. Vincent makes contributes backing vocals on the druggy "Chalk Tablet Towers" and "The Pink Phantom" brings together rapper 6lack with the iconic Elton John!

    Song Machine was presented as an ongoing series of tracks, not a proper album and we'd already heard a good bit of them before the full release. However, they held back one of the true gems: "The Valley of The Pagans" featuring Beck, who'd surprisingly never collaborated with his peer Albarn before. The up-tempo song takes a ride through Beck's home turf of Los Angeles (the valley in the title) and feels right out of his The Information era.

    "Momentary Bliss," the first song we heard, is a total banger that mixes rapper slowthai's high-energy performance, a Beatles reference and some ska-punky guitars and gets the balance absolutely right of the elements that make up a successful Gorillaz song. And "Aries" belongs on a classic John Hughes movie soundtrack which is why it's no surprise that the great New Order bassist Peter Hook plays on it.

    The eclectic mix of guests makes Strange Timez a bit of a roller coaster ride, though again, it's supposed to be more of a playlist and less of a cohesive album. Most of the big-name guests are frontloaded, with the middle featuring a run of lesser-known guest rappers (who might just not be on our radar at Y-Not). The lovely, breezy "Désolé" (French for "sorry") shows up near the end and is another highlight.

    Strange Timez is labeled as Season One, so there should be more to come out of the Song Machine in the future. But it's also already so overstuffed with new tunes that the deluxe edition is 17 songs long and even includes "How Far?," which was one of the early pre-release singles, though the rest are definitely B-side material.

    This fall is actually the 20th anniversary of Gorillaz, whose first release, the "Tomorrow Comes Today" EP, was released in November of 2000. It seems so long ago that Gorillaz was just a fictional band of four musicians (2-D, Murdok, Noodles and Russel) and not a catch-all umbrella project that blurs all genres and welcomes anyone and everyone into the tent; the "festival" bill as one act. Albarn was ahead of the curve on his genre-blending, which makes Strange Timez sound just like the strange times we are in today.
    Review by Joey O.

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