Album Review - MillionYoung - Replicants
Alan Partridge is probably the last person you’d imagine to pop into your head while casually listening to MillionYoung’s (aka Mike Diaz) new album Replicants. Though that was the case after listening to little more than five minutes; third track ‘Easy Now’ sounds like a bizarre concoction of Bill Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now’, from the Rocky film series and Gary Numan’s ‘Music for Chameleons’. And of course, if you’ve seen Partridge’s infamous ‘air-bass’ rendition of the latter, you’ll remember it forever.
‘Chillwave’, despite allegedly being ‘dead’ for a good year now (though whether it even ever existed is up for debate) rears its head once more in the form of Replicants, and it’s fair to say that Diaz could feasibly be called a ‘veteran’ of a genre with apparently a very short half-life. Releasing an EP in both 2009 and 2010 to garnered a positive reception from fans, and so in 2011 it was anticipated that the fast-releasing artist would drop some new works.
And it would be harsh to say it’s a letdown. The record provides more of the same; dreary vocals ambient noises, a heavy emphasis on bass, and of course, the standard dreamy, saturated artwork. But that’s about it. There’s nothing here to separate Diaz from other chillwave stalwarts Chazwick Bundick (Toro y Moi) or Ernest Greene (Washed Out). But then again, why change a ‘winning’ formula? Tracks such as ‘On & On’ and ‘Cosmonaut’ are nice enough, but don’t particularly offer anything that hasn’t been done before.
Aside from the aforementioned Partridge flashback, another notable moment on the album is on the title track. Diaz makes a half-baked attempt at singing, and it’s apparent that there is more than a whiff of Wham!’s famous Club Tropicana about it. He actually does a pretty good job of the singing on the record as a whole, though most of the time it amounts to little more than the droning that seems to have become standard for the genre.
Tracks ‘Cosmonaut’ and ‘Gravity Feels’ are nice tunes, both building up into an epic ending whilst still remaining subtly ambient, who unfortunately neither really do enough do support a rather mediocre record on the whole. It’s not a bad record, but when the standout moment is a Steve Coogan-related memory jolt, it was never going to be album of the year.
Album Review - TV On The Radio - Nine Types Of Light
TV On The Radio
Nine Types Of Light
Interscope Records, 2011
It’s been quite the turbulent start to the year for TV On The Radio. During a hiatus spanning 18 months, the group were typically quiet; guitarist Kyp Malone and band nucleus Dave Sitek both released solo albums to moderate success, but nothing was heard as far as TV On The Radio were concerned. Fast forward to early 2011, and the band suddenly announced the end of their self-imposed break, a new album, and two teaser tracks available for streaming in the space of a month. The experimental rockers had exploded back onto the radar in spectacularly speedy fashion, generating a monumental buzz in music circles.
After announcing Nine Types Of Light, follow-up to 2008’s breakthrough Dear Science, tragedy suddenly hit. The group announced the bassist Gerard Smith had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He is expected to sit up the band’s upcoming tour, instead staying back in New York to receive treatment for his illness. “Already we have seen dramatic results,” read an official statement from the Brooklyn collective. “Combine that with Gerard’s legendarily wilful disposition and it might just be cancer that has the problem. We appreciate your concern and support for Gerard and his family.”
Whether or not the band knew of Smith’s illness during recording is unknown, but what is certain is that the quality of the record is what many have come to expect from the band – nothing short of fantastic – is still there. The groovy bass lines are still present, as are the funky drum beats and bizarre atmospheric sounds that made Dear Science so revered among critics and fans alike. Album opener ‘Second Song’ sets the tone for the record with a brilliant build-up into a stomping crescendo of singer Tunde Adebimpe’s impressive falsetto vocals. Backed by horns and some sleek guitar effects, the superb level of production seen on all of TVOTR’s previous efforts is evident from the first moment.
‘You’ has a pounding drum track and yet more subtle sounds over a synth-part so emotive it wouldn’t sound out of place on a record by The Knife. ‘Will Do’, the album’s first single, begins with a haunting xylophone beat before being joined by Adebimpe’s tender vocals and a tight bass line. The tempo of the song is excellent, threatening on numerous occasions to boil over into an all-out rock song but instead keeping a steady beat throughout.
Emotions do spill over on ‘Repetition’, with urgent vocals, the fastest drum track on the record and a memorable hook: “What’s the matter with your next door neighbour/I heard he had sex, drugs and danger/But you can kick it with a complete stranger. The song breaks down into a creepy, almost-robotic monologue, before the brilliantly ironic repetition of ‘Repetition/My repetition is this” is yelled by Adebimpe in a fashion not too dissimilar to that of original hit ‘Wolf Like Me’, before abruptly ending. Closing number ‘Caffeinated Consciousness’ is arguably the highlight, with a hugely powerful drum and bass section contributing to the stomping, anthemic spine of the song, before countless instruments contribute to the rather excellent mellow chorus sections, again with different atmospheric sounds contrasting the tranquil, chilled-out atmosphere to the rest of the rest of the track.
Many thought that Dear Science would be hard to top, such was the record’s quality, but Nine Types Of Light might just do it. Despite perhaps not possessing any songs as strong as ‘Staring At The Sun’, ‘DLZ, or ‘Crying’, the record as a whole is consistently strong throughout, and the production is absolutely stellar. As with all TVOTR albums, it is an injustice if you listen to it through standard speakers, so grab yourself some Sennheisers, sit back, and prepare be amazed by TV’s triumphant return.
Feature - Running With Ellie Goulding
Usually, a meeting with a pop star is about being in the right place at the right time. They tend to be awkward situations, a case of either being too star struck to make any meaningful conversation, or trying too hard to impress your new-found best friend (for the next thirty seconds, anyway).
Not Ellie Goulding. The night before her show at the Southampton Guildhall, four students from Southampton Solent University were asked if they would like to go jogging with the pop sensation herself. Walking to university every day was exercise enough for most of us, but we all agreed to go anyway, the 5-kilometre run being a small consequence of meeting Britain’s latest pop darling.
Here are some of the participants’ experiences:
Elliott, 19 from Essex:
“I’ve met my fair share of high-profile artists in the short 19 years I’ve lived, most spurring from being in the right place at the right time. But it seems for the more forward thinking of artists that they believe it to be acceptable to command a little more than just showing up at an in-store signing event to get a chance to meet them. I’m tempted to use the phrase ‘blood, sweat, and tears’ to describe what I had to endure to meet Ellie Goulding, and I’d almost be right; there was certainly buckets of sweat, thankfully no blood (just blisters…), and dare I say tears of joy at actually finishing the run!”
Danielle, 19 from Essex:
“Normally my answer to a 5k run would be “You must be must joking, me running!? Hah!” But when you ask would you like to run 5k with Ellie Goulding? My answer soon turns into “Of course! How could I say no!?” I was dreading the thought of the run but when she arrived I thought of how lucky I was and knew I would give it my best shot. The pace was pretty fast and being a non-runner hated every second of it. But when it all came to an end it was well worth the pain, she was happy enough to sign our special ‘Ellie Runs’ Nike tops and put us all on the guest list for the show that night. Ellie is so passionate about running it makes me want to join the gym and start running, what she’s doing for her fans is such a great thing and I hope she keeps it up for years to come. I hope I get the chance to do it all over again, but this time with a few months of training behind me…”
Rachael, 20, from Brighton:
“Having the opportunity to run with Ellie Goulding was truly amazing, when I first found out that I’d be running with her I was ecstatic but then realised that I can’t really run, so quickly became nervous and quite scared! Waking up to beautiful weather with the thought that not everyone gets to run with Ellie Goulding everyday spurred me on to do well and enjoy the run instead of dread it! Meeting Ellie was great; she was so lovely, friendly and down to earth, seeming like a friend rather than a famous musician! The run itself was enjoyable, becoming tough towards the end I managed to finish it and Ellie spent time signing our t-shirts and taking photos, which was great.
Running with Ellie has really inspired me to start jogging properly it’s clear she feels so passionately about it, and is keen to inspire her fans to go out and get fit which really comes across in her personality.”
Rob, 20, from Basingstoke:
“Being a huge Ellie Goulding fan, I must have been the only person dedicated (read: obsessive) enough to have known she frequently runs in the cities she gigs in. I had tickets for the Southampton show the day they went on sale, but couldn’t find any information on a scheduled run in the city, and thought no more of it. So when I was asked the day before the show I was ecstatic to say the least! I had been jogging regularly over the summer whilst working with the military in Germany, but since resuming university my beer belly had started to reappear and the thought of jogging again worried me a little, but it was fantastic! The 5k seemed a breeze whilst jogging alongside Ellie the entire time, and she was lovely and understanding about those who couldn’t keep up as easily. The whole experience was surreal, really amazing and surely an incentive for those who want to start jogging!”
Ellie just enjoys running; “I just really love it, so decided to get other people involved. People think I’m a nerd, but shame on people who laugh at it because I’d much rather my fans were doing that rather than getting wasted on drugs or just being…lazy.” She knows it’s not typical custom for a pop star to do this sort of thing as well. “Yeah it’s different, people say I’m a nerd and ask what’s the point… I just think it’s good because everything I’ve done to do with music is pretty dark and I’ve been through a lot of stuff to write my songs, but there’s this whole other thing about me which is running. I like it so much I just wanted to get people who are into my music involved and see if I could make a difference. Which I think I have done, because so many people have started running through it. So if people want to come they can just get involved, and if they want to ask me for advice I’ll give it, same wit music and people who want to become musicians.”
And it turns out she had fun on her jog in Southampton too; “I really enjoyed it. Sometimes we have five people, sometimes ten. Last time we had a girl, who… she was lovely, but she was underage and she couldn’t really run very far, so to have a lot of people who can actually run is really cool. Last tour we did it in every city and I was fit as hell. Just running every day in every city and then going to the gym afterwards. It’s too much this time though because it’s a really long tour, and a demanding show physically too, so we’ve made sure we haven’t done it every day.”
By Rob Ferguson, with contributions from Danielle Brackenbury, Elliot Muharrem, and Rachael Anderson
Feature - Music & the Movies
British Rock band Muse have announced they are considering doing a film soundtrack for sci-fi remake Clash of the Titans. The genre of the film and style of music the band play go hand in hand, however frontman Matt Bellamy said that if they were to do the soundtrack it would “be totally different to Muse”. The band have had music contained in films before, most notably contributing a song apiece to the first two intstallments of the hugely successful film adaptations of the Twilight books.
The news comes just days after American pop-punks Fall Out Boy and blink-182 revealed that they would both be interested in writing music for Tim Allen’s incarnation of Alice In Wonderland.
It is not the first time that commercially-successful bands and artists have contributed to film soundtracks. The French electronica band Air scored part of the soundtrack to the 1999 film adaption of novel The Virgin Suicides, and so successful was the music, that the band released an album with the entire soundtrack as well as some bonus tracks; it sold so well that they include it among their discography.
However, some film scores aren’t all so successful. In Mariah Carey’s first acting role, Glitter (2001), she contributed the entire soundtrack, and released an album containg all the tracks by the same name. Unfortunately, as the film flopped at the box-office, so did the album, and the whole episode damaged Carey’s image so badly that she was dropped from her lucrative contract at record label EMI. Oops.
Slightly more bizarrely, Scottish post-rockers Mogwai wrote the entire score for a French football documentary, Zidane, A 21st Century Portrait (2006). The film whole film was just focussed on one football match, Real Madrid CF vs. Villarreal, and had 17 cameras fixed on Zidane at all time. Mogwai were specifically approached to write the score, and asked to make it sound as improvised as possible. The album was released under the same name as the film, and despite the record selling well, it is up for debate whether the film was as successful.
Biography - Toro y Moi
Arriving late seems to be 24-year old Chazwick Bundick’s (better known as Toro y Moi) style. Missing the ‘summer of chillwave’ by a good six months before releasing his debut LP, 2010’s Causers Of This, the record then took a good year to find any sort of widespread acclaim.
Perhaps that paints his situation slightly unfairly. Hailing from Columbia, South Carolina, Toro y Moi has had a selected, almost cult following since his early days as a live performing artist. A talented multi-instrumentalist and devoted academic (graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in graphic design from his hometown university) , and has all the ingredients to be what many love to hate – one of those ‘pretentious music-types’. Not quite. ‘Music-type’? Yes. Pretentious? No.
Born to a Filipino mother and African-American father, Chaz formed a rock band at the age of 13, and became so immersed in his new-found love for music that he began recording demos in his bedroom, using drum machines to create the basis of a track and adding the lyrics after. He explains “It was the only way I could do it. Now, with the introduction of computers, it’s much more freeform: I can make a track, do the lyrics, and then completely change the music underneath, chop it up and restructure it. It’s more spontaneous, fun, crazy and weird.”
Yes, despite possessing such musical prowess, he is well-known for his use of laptops during live shows. This infatuation with technology contrasts with his other love of vinyl and tape recordings, perhaps what the rugged recording style is homage to. Everything about Toro y Moi smacks of a lack of identity; something probably for better than worse, as it allows Chaz pure creative freedom without being pigeon-holed with other ‘chillwave’ artists.
The album, recorded to give it a very droned, lo-fi sound is surprisingly upbeat and accessible for even the most narrow-minded of listeners. Taking influence from inspirational hip-hop innovator, the late J Dilla, as well as Sonic Youth and Daft Punk gives the record a unique sound, a pleasant surprise for many, who, maybe forgivably, hesitated at first listen, expecting just another hipster jumping on the chillwave bandwagon. ‘Low Shoulder’ is easily the most ‘pop’ song on the record, though not in the conventional sense of the term. It sounds so much different to anything else within the chillwave movement at present – it has the steady beat and catchy hook, but the reverb effects and twisted bassline provide something deeper than the usual suspects on MTV’s top rotation playlist.
In truth, it is difficult to categorize Toro y Moi. He probably doesn’t know himself what sound he is trying to achieve, releasing songs under multiple aliases (Sides of Chaz and Les Sins being the notable ones). Imagine dance-y beats with the ghostly sounds from Radiohead’s Kid A, and you’re halfway to maybe understanding what a portion of his work sounds like, such is the difficulty is classifying his sound. The album definitely has a chilled feel to it, but with the obvious hi-hop, house, and electronica elements, what really is it? This may be why it has taken so long for Chaz and his brainchild to come to prominence, despite heavy praise and championing from pioneering alternative music websites – the peak of his popularity from the Causers Of This fallout was the aforementioned ‘Low Shoulder’ being used in a Skins advert in the UK.
This year, however, could be Chaz’s year. With albums lined up from both his Toro y Moi and Les Sins aliases, he is determined to play it right this time, and it seems the masses are responding. Sophomore Toro record Underneath the Pine has caused a stir not only thanks to it’s quite frankly grotesque album cover, but also the two tracks that have been released ahead of its scheduled February release. If these snippets are anything to go by then Chaz has again taken off in a different direction, with electro-funk fusions heavily used on both tracks. The amazing thing is listening to his demos from little over 18 months ago, is parts of his work ranged from sounding like the bastard son of Hendrix and James Brown (see ‘Girl Problems’) to Erasure (‘Such Bad Handling’) to current electronica, ala Boyz Noize. The range of genres covered is mind-boggling.
Many on the Internet are hailing it as their most-anticipated record of 2011. Toro fever is still at fever-pitch due to the slow burning nature of his first effort, and this could play to his advantage with this record. With the build-up and hype generated, there’s no chance Toro y Moi will be late this time around. Then again, we should come to expect the unexpected.
(Quote taken from interview at http://altmusic.about.com/od/interviews/a/toroymoi.htm)
Live Review - Cardinals - Live at Southampton Solent SU, Southampton
Live at Southampton Solent SU
23rd November 2010
Southampton-based 4-piece math/indie band Cardinals have been garnering quite a following around the local Southampton music scene simply off the back of a couple of demos recorded in and mixed in guitarist Neil Allen’s bedroom. The band finally played their first show recently, and it was only fitting that the venue was the university that brought them all together in the first place.
Second on the bill of a three-band line-up, the interest in Cardinals was visible by the sheer amount of people who turned up only to see them. The number of spectators at least tripled for Cardinals’ 5-song set, and the entire show was greatly received.
Kicking off with a largely guitar-dominant 2-minute instrumental introduction, reminiscent of bands like Explosions in the Sky. The post-rock influence becomes more apparent as the show progresses, with heavy use of delay pedals and drummer James Richardson putting a lot of emphasis on his cymbal play.
When the band begin to play ‘Reliance’, the first song they recorded together, the crowd get going a bit more and begin to clap and move about a bit, despite singer Pattrick Callingham’s moody distinct moody vocal. When set-closer Human Traces comes around, the audience bellow out the ‘anything will leave it you will it so let go’ hook almost as loud as Callingham himself, and the crowd respond with rapturous applause.
The show ended too early for most fans, but it is early days for arguably Southampton’s most promising indie band, and fans can eagerly await more tour dates set to be announced for early 2011.
Live Review - The Go! Team - The Old Firestation, Bournemouth
The Go! Team
Live at The Old Firestation, Bournemouth
14th February 2011
It’s Valentine’s Day and love is in the air, and nowhere more so than a sweaty, smoky, darkly lit room in the middle of Bournemouth. Genre-bending Brighton sextet The Go! Team are in town on the final leg of their UK tour, and have done their best to celebrate the occasion. Bouquets of flowers decorate the multiple microphones across the stage in an attempt to give the place feel even a little more feeling.
The enthusiastic group take to the stage just after their allotted time of 9:30, the tardiness only due to the support bands running late. Frontwoman Ninja appears ecstatic to see so many people in attendance, and remarkably so many couples who have chosen to spend the evening watching one of the most exciting cult British bands in years instead of pouring a glass of red and having a romantic evening in. The singletons aren’t unrepresented either, with Ninja giving shout-outs to both the loved-up and the lonely before launching into a blistering set.
Opening with typical panache, ‘T.O.R.N.A.D.O.’ is a stomping, intense 2-minute blast to set the evening’s tone right from the off – and the crowd are loving it, with absolutely everyone jumping around with arms flailing in the air. It is evident from the start that Ninja’s freestyle vocals flow as well live (if not better) as on the group’s studio albums, and fan-favourite ‘Grip Like A Vice’ only showcases this in what was probably the most impressive performance of the night. With so many instruments (two drummers for starters) and different layers to the song, you couldn’t be blamed for anticipating nothing more than simply a messy noise from a live performance, but the sound was incredibly tight and the crowd sounded their appreciation as the group leaped and bounded across the stage.
The band continue to play a great mix songs of songs, not just from latest release Rolling Blackouts, but also their two critically acclaimed previous efforts. Breakthrough hit ‘Ladyflash’ is played to rapturous applause and excitement, while new songs such as ‘Ready To Go Steady’ provide an insight to the direction in which the band have taken with Rolling Blackouts. After some less-intense tracks in the middle of the set, the band pump up the adrenaline again with old favourites ‘Bottle Rocket’ and ‘The Power Is On’, before they inevitably left the stage, teasing the baying crowd and leaving them yelling for more.
After returning to the stage minutes later to play an encore, Ninja engages with the crowd one final time, throwing a couple of flower bouquets into the crowd for some lucky couples to keep as a Valentine’s gift. They pick up right where they left off again afterwards, launching into ‘Junior Kickstart’. The highlight of the encore though is new song ‘Apollo Throwdown’, a song in the same vein as ‘Grip Like A Vice’, with anthemic vocals backed by multiple instruments; the song definitely has an oriental feel to it, further adding to the wide range of influences the band have become famous for incorporating.
The band left the stage to huge applause after playing final song ‘Keys To The City’, with one happy gig-goer quite appropriately wolf whistling at the bubbly Ninja as she leaves the stage. She gives one final wave before disappearing out of side at the side of the stage, leaving the crowd to reflect on what, for many of them, may well be the most raucous Valentine’s Day they’ll ever experience.
Grip Like A Vice
Voice Yr Choice
The Running Range
Ready To Go Steady
Buy Nothing Day
The Power Is On
Back Like 8 Track
Keys To The City
Album Review - The Go! Team - Rolling Blackouts
The Go! Team
Memphis Industries, 2011
Brighton-based sextet The Go! Team return to form with their third full-length release Rolling Blackouts. Picking up from the cheery, relentless optimism of their 2004 debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, the band are as distinct as ever, with their fuzzy production style, collaborations with guest vocalists and thumping drums courtesy of the two percussionists within the group.
Kicking off with a typical extravagantly named track, ‘T.O.R.N.A.D.O’ is a punchy number with crazy freestyling vocals from band leader Ninja and a beat reminiscent of old favourite ‘The Power Is On’. The Beastie Boys influence is here for all to see, but following tune ‘Secretary Song’ has a more carefully structured sound (possibly helped by having an alternative vocalist), albeit with the same classic upbeat tone that the group are famous for.
Lead single ‘Buy Nothing Day’ is one of the highlights of the album, and features guest vocals by Bethany Cosentino of American surf-pop group Best Coast. With its infectiously danceable beat and singalong chorus, it is sandwiched between two instrumental songs on the album and to make sure you’re kept interested. And that’s the beautiful thing about The Go! Team; the mix between instrumental and vocal tracks, between upbeat and low-key – somehow the band make it all work.
The album trails off a bit towards the end in the same way as the aforementioned debut and sophomore (2007’s Proof of Youth) albums did, with quieter (‘Lazy Poltergeist’) and less memorable (The Running Range) tracks, but overall the record is perhaps the group’s best yet and maybe they will start to get the wider recognition they have arguably deserved for years.
Album Review - Toro y Moi - Underneath The Pine
Toro y Moi
Underneath the Pine
Carpark Records, 2011
Chazwick Bundick’s first album under his Toro y Moi moniker, 2010’s Causers of This, was an extremely pleasant surprise. It proved to be one of the albums of the year, brimming with unafraid ambition, stellar production skills, and a wide variety of genres & influences present throughout. Unsurprising then, that his follow up has been widely anticipated.
That follow up is Underneath the Pine, which unfortunately can only be described as disappointing in context with its superb predecessor. Maybe it is the classic ‘second-album syndrome’? Maybe it’s the speed in which he released the record (only 13 months after the debut)? It’s difficult to pinpoint, but it is a slight letdown.
Maybe that’s a bit cruel. As a stand-alone record it fares quite well, but relative to Causers of This, it becomes evident that much of the magic has disappeared. Underneath the Pine still draws from different genres – funk being the most evident – but it lacks the ghostly and atmospheric noises that were the essence of the LP, and it sorely misses the ‘wow-factor tracks’; whilst the debut had strong, accessible songs such as ‘Low Shoulder’ and ‘Talamak’, Underneath the Pine just feels like more of an effort to listen to.
That said, it does have its moments. First single ‘Still Sound’ is a fusion of dance and funk that won’t fail to get the feet at least tapping along, and is probably the closest thing to any song present on the debut record. Another song, ‘Got Blinded’ is a gorgeous combination of dreamy vocals, captivating keyboard, and excellent production skills. Closing track ‘Elise’ is also full of feeling and emotion, with urgent vocals and a beautiful piano section to boot – arguably Toro y Moi’s most complex track to date.
It is quite an impressive record from a production point of view, but it’s hardly an ingenious piece of work in context to Bundick’s other contemporaries, and unfortunately becomes almost mediocre in comparison to its quite brilliant predecessor. Maybe his side project Les Sins will produce something a little more inspiring?
Album Review - Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
After initially stating in late 2007 that Gorillaz would effectively cease to exist in it’s current form, Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s virtual band return this year with their third studio album Plastic Beach. Originally just a project titled ‘Carousel’, two years ago not even Albarn himself knew it would eventually evolve into a new Gorillaz LP, and in many ways the album itself doesn’t feel like any of the bands’ previous work.
Band animator Hewlett told The Observer newspaper in 2007: “Gorillaz now to us is not like four animated characters any more - it’s more like an organisation of people doing new projects.” Despite the fact that Gorillaz have collaborated with many artists before (most of their mainstream success has been based on collaborations; hit singles ‘Feel Good, Inc.’ and ‘DARE’ featured American trio De La Soul and Shaun Ryder of Happy Mondays infamy respectively), the artists chosen to collaborate on this record are from a broader range of genres, with both some old faces returning to lend a hand (De La Soul) as well as those making their first appearances for the Gorillaz project (Snoop Dogg, Mos Def, Lou Reed).
The most striking thing about the record is that it genuinely is a concept album, strangely chosen to focus around the theme of beaches, or a mystical tropical island (at least for the musical portion of the project; the video for ‘Stylo’ doesn’t seem to bear any references). A glance at the artwork is the most obvious clue, but also a quick scan of the song titles bear a resemblance to a tropical/nature theme, with songs such as ‘Superfast Jellyfish’, ‘On Melancholy Hill’, and ‘Pirate Jet’.
However, despite the concept of the album seemingly playful, the underlying messages tend to have a more serious message about them. Thumping lead single ‘Stylo’ features Mos Def and the excellent Bobby Womack raging about, in his words ‘everything from love to politics, just to get them off my chest’. Womack had a rough time of it in the studio; he passed out during the recording sessions and only woke up when, ironically, given the bands name, was given a banana. ‘Superfast Jellyfish’, one of the album’s standout tracks featuring De La Soul once more as well as Gruff Rhys from Super Fury Animals fame, sounds like a really fun, playful ditty on the initial listen, but upon further inspection the strange lyrics are revealed to be metaphors for the cruel, manufactured record labels in the industry. It is here that you realise that the album title is also a clever metaphor, the ‘Plastic Beach’ being the UK. These social comments, values and themes are just another aspect that sets Plastic Beach apart from its two predecessors.
Another of the album’s standout tracks is ‘Empire Ants’, featuring Swedish-Japanese electronic band Little Dragon. Truly, a song of two halves, the opening section is a low-key, dreamy number with Albarn’s depressing vocals, before the song explodes mid-way with a traditional heavy, groovy Gorillaz bassline, and spacey vocals from Little Dragon singer Yukimi Nagano. One of the more tender moments on the album, it is in sharp contrast to the bouncy aforementioned ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ and also provides some nostalgia for the long-time Gorillaz fan, with the same sound of sound the band has become associated with. ‘On Melancholy Hill’ is a low-fi track with a very danceable beat, but the dreamy vocals and poignant cry for help the lyrics depict again contrasting the initial feel to the record. ‘Glitter Freeze’ is a largely instrumental song and an obvious throwback to their track ‘Double Bass’ on their eponymous debut; Plastic Beach’s real strength is found here in the ability to appeal to both newcomers and settled fans, providing innovative new ideas as well as keeping a familiar, successful formula.
This isn’t to say the album doesn’t have it weak points; ‘Sweepstakes’ is a strong contender for the worst song in the band’s catalogue. With its irritating beat, seemingly incoherent structure and repetitive chorus, the track just doesn’t really work and at five minutes in length, quickly grows old. ‘Cloud of Unknowing’ offers a slower number, but isn’t one you will look to go back to when revisiting the album.
Despite these minor wobbles, the album as whole is very impressive, with a perfect range of collaborations and styles to accommodate even the most pernickety of music fans. Going one better than the solid Demon Days, Albarn can be proud he’s created an album making an important social comment and incorporating new ideas into the new tracks without sacrificing that strange ingredient that made Gorillaz so appealing in the first place.