Sound — 8
Damon Albarn was the frontman for the band, Blur, who were one of the most popular bands in pop rock in the early to mid-'90s and had a long-standing feud with Oasis (their main competition at the time). Damon Albarn started working on Gorillaz and other musical projects in the late '90s through the present due to his creative partner in Blur, Graham Coxon, becoming disenchanted with Blur and with the relationships within the band breaking down. Albarn went on to have a very successful run with the Gorillaz. This solo effort is being released as an attempt at a personal and honest record from Albarn, telling his story from his perspective. There are 12 tracks with an approximate runtime of 46 minutes. The following songs have been released as singles on the album: "Lonely Press Play" (late February), "Everyday Robots" (early March), "Mr. Tembo" (mid-April), "Hollow Ponds" (mid-April), and finally "Heavy Seas of Love" (late April).
The album opens up with the title track "Everyday Robots," with audio samples taken from "Cabenza de Gasca/The Gasser," from the 1960 album, "Buckley's Best." Once the song comes in it takes full advantage of an unconventional percussion and a simple violin riff played as a piano plucks its own little bit. Damon's vocals, like on most of the album, are supremely melancholic and set the mood for the entire album. "Hostiles" is made up mostly of a guitar melody and a dog barking, with some simple percussion and some twinkling piano lines fading in and out. "Lonely Press Play," which was technically the first track released from the album, opens up with bass and percussion and builds up with other sounds, including piano and what I believe is a camera shutter. "Mr. Tembo" is a song that Albarn wrote for a baby elephant who was orphaned and was originally performed for this elephant in Tanzania. "Mr. Tembo" contains an audio sample from "Lions" from the album "Way Out Humour." "Parakeet" is short instrumental track, less than a minute long, and sounds like something I would expect to hear on a Gorillaz album. "The Selfish Giant" is a very slow melancholy groove with some interesting keyboard/piano bits that have a jazz feel to them. "You and Me" features guest vocals from Brian Eno and has very narrative lyrics. "Hollow Ponds" has an interesting progression and captures the feeling of some type of quiet desperation like watching the sand fall through an hourglass too quickly. "Seven High" is another instrumental track, and it is not much longer than the last, coming in right at sixty seconds. "Photographs (You Are Taking Now)" contains an audio sample from the Timothy Leary audio book, "The Psychedelic Experience: A Manual Based on the Tibetan Book of the Dead." The song definitely captures a specific type of melancholy that I could also relate back to the same audio book that is sampled. "The History of a Cheating Heart" is essentially a slow fingerpicked guitar song with vocals, but other instrumentation comes in briefly on the song, and of course has some very sparse bass playing on the track. The album closes out with the track "Heavy Seas of Love," which has verses sang by Brian Eno and The Leytonstone City Mission Choir and then Albarn comes in for the choruses.
Lyrics — 8
Damon Albarn performs the majority of the lyrics on the album himself, with just a few guest spots. Brian Eno guests on "You and Me" and "Heavy Seas of Love," The Leytonstone City Mission Choir guests on "Mr. Tembo" and "Heavy Seas of Love," and finally Bat For Lashes guests on "The Selfish Giant." The Leytonstone City Mission Choir was invited to guest on the album as Albarn listened to this choir practice as a child and wanted to make them part of his album. Albarn's vocals have a quality to them that helps to transmit his pain and emotion that is unique to just a few modern vocalists. Here are some lyrics from the closing track "Heavy Seas of Love": "When your soul isn't right/ And it's raw to the night/ It's in your hands/ When the traces of dark come/ To fade in the light/ You're in safe hands/ Heavy seas of love/ Radiance is in you/ As above so below/ On the heavy seas of love/ When the world is to tall/ You can jump you won't fall/ You're in safe hands/ What the day will now give/ How those seeds will now live/ It's in your hands."
Overall Impression — 8
This is possibly one of the most introspective and melancholy albums I've listened to in a while, and that can be a good or a bad thing. In the right mood, this album is an absolute masterpiece but in the wrong mood it can feel really oppressive. My favorite tracks would have to be the title track, "Everyday Robots," "Hollow Ponds," and "The Selfish Giant." There are no bad songs on the album, but of course there are some songs that sound like Albarn was more in his Gorillaz headspace when writing them. At the end of the day, it is an excellent album in the right mood, but feels oppressive if you aren't ready to hear music this melancholy.