“Song Machine, Season 1: Strange Timez” is the latest project from British virtual band Gorillaz. In case you’re not familiar, Gorillaz is an alternative rock/hip hop band consisting of four fictional animated characters.
The lead singer of the band, nicknamed 2D, is voiced by Blur frontman Damon Albarn and as usual, he has partnered with a wide array of talents from around the world to bring us a sonically diverse album.
As a whole, the title of the record reflects quite accurately the listening experience. Past Gorillaz projects, in particular 2010’s “Plastic Beach,” have had some overarching theme or recurring concept that you would notice as you listened to it all the way through.
But this album is more of a collection of songs with varying subject matter and tones, each with a very distinct musical style. Each song feels self-contained and dedicated to sounding as good as it can on its own without feeling the need to build upon or elaborate on previously introduced concepts.
Singles have been dropping off “Song Machine” ever since the track “Momentary Bliss” was released back in January. But the project first caught my attention with the release of “Désolé,” which was the second single off the album. The track stood out from anything I’d heard before, largely thanks to the featured artist on the track, Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara and her exuberant yet traditional vocals.
Then, just after I’d discovered that tune, “Aries,” the third single off “Song Machine, dropped just in time for me to become obsessed and listen to it all summer. Featuring a dreamy bassline from Joy Division’s Peter Hook and soft, almost dejected vocal delivery from Albarn, it quickly became my personal favorite song on the album.
Not all the singles held the same degree of quality. Particularly, the songs “Friday 13th” and the title track “Strange Timez,” both of which ended up being some of my least favorite songs off the project.
The former suffered from a lack of Damon Albarn’s voice, which I consider to be imperative to a Gorillaz track, as well as, in my opinion, a mostly uninteresting feature from French rapper Octavian. Though Albarn was adequately present on “Strange Timez,” I was not at all impressed by the chorus delivered by Robert Smith of The Cure fame. His inflections were jarring and, no pun intended, strange to me, though not in the innovative way that Diawara’s were on “Désolé.”
Overall, I would say that nearly half the songs on “Song Machine” are genuinely great and certainly deserve spots in your playlist. The worst tracks here aren’t unbearable by any means, but when held against the other stuff here, they simply pale in comparison.
Regardless, this album is worth a listen and I recommend it because with an album as sonically diverse as this one, there’s almost certainly something here for you..
- “Aries” (feat. Peter Hook and Georgia)
- “Désolé” (feat. Fatoumata Diawara)
- “The Valley of the Pagans” (feat. Beck)
- “Momentary Bliss” (feat. slowthai and Slaves)
- “The Pink Phantom” (feat. Elton John and 6LACK)
Overall Rating: 7/10