As I write this, release of the new Gorillaz album, Humanz, is on its final countdown. Even though a serious chunk of the tracks have already been released, I’m still anticipating the fuck out of the release. It appears to be less of a standard Gorillaz album (if there is such a thing) and more of a collage of artists, held together by frontman Damon Albarn and themes of societal change.
Now, constant listeners and blog-readers know Damon Albarn holds god-like status in the mantheon of my psyche. It’s practically super bowl day when it comes to the release of any content blessed by his golden touch.
I’m very fortunate to have lots of friends in my life who keep me up to date with news and thinkpieces about anything from Blur to Gorillaz. Today’s featured article on the ZellWire is an analysis of the forthcoming Gorillaz album by Barry Walters for NPR. Overall it is a fantastic read, with some exception: it skirts the line between categorizing Albarn as a Britpop artist, while just barely not accusing him of cultural appropriation.
My immediate thought is, this guy really doesn’t know ANY non-Gorillaz-post-Blur Damon Albarn projects, does he?
I can’t blame him a whole lot. I’m assuming the author is from America, where my boo is highly underrated by the masses. Hell, I’d bet money that someone reading this blog is just now realizing that OMG, the frontman for Blur and Gorillaz is the SAME GUY.
I decided my side project for today is to collect Damon Albarn solo and side project songs to highlight his talent and diversity, including some in which he only lent his voice. I discovered a few new ones along the way too, so enjoy them all with me today on this Bizarro World version of #blursdaythursday which contains no Blur!
It all started with Trainspotting…
“Closet Romantic” is a surreal, retro-flavored ode to Connery’s James Bond films. What’s not to love?
He did a horror movie soundtrack with Michael Nyman…
What a bizarre and terrifying collection of sounds. There are a couple dud tracks that only work in context of the movie (“Noises Off”), but Boyd’s Journey and Manifest Destiny are some of my favorites to put on during Halloween to scare the piss out of the trick-or-treaters.
The movie itself is fantastic as well, featuring Robert Carlyle and Guy Pearce in a story of an American Expansion era journey gone horribly wrong.
He wrote a folk-pop opera about historical figure Dr. John Dee…
I honestly had no idea who Dr. Dee was until I heard this music, which I’m sure was entirely the point.
It’s really difficult to find some of this stuff online. Even the official site leads to a broken link for purchasing. And where can I get my hand on a DVD of a performance?
Oh, screw it, how about a playlist of the rest…
Most of Albarn’s work is available on streaming services, as he seems to take a pretty relaxed approach toward online music. I’ve picked several standout tracks from various albums, but here’s some projects worth extra mention.
The Good, the Bad, and the Queen is a one-off (?) Supergroup of Albarn, Paul Simonon (the Clash), Simon Tong (the Verve), and Tony Allen (Fela Kuti’s band) and produced by Danger Mouse. The sound is more mellow than you might expect, but has a lot of surprises, too. Rumor is, another album from these guys may be in the works.
Swap out the bass player for Flea and drop Simon Tong and you have …
Rocket Juice and the Moon, who certainly wins a prize for one of the weirdest band names. The sound is tight as fuck, with solid beats some experimental sounds. It’s primarily influenced by R&B, funk, & electronic music with but there are so many diverse styles it’s hard to pin down into one genre. It’s loaded with guest stars as well– as much as the average Gorillaz album.
This may be my favorite of the side projects, simply because it’s SO different from everything else, but not inaccessibly weird.
Speaking of inaccessibly weird….
Journey to the West is a Chinese opera, because why stop with an English opera when you can travel to China to write a completely new sound? Ok. I suppose “inaccessibly weird” isn’t exactly fair but it’s definitely… different. It is basically a Gorillaz instrumental offshoot, but like “the Fall” you kind of just have to be in the mood for it. They just can’t entirely admit that it’s Gorillaz for legal reasons, apparently. The sound is familiar yet exotic, definitely worth a listen if you’re in the mood for some experimental Asian flavors.
Last but not least…
Everyday Robots is the most folksy, darkly introspective and autobiographical of the lot. It’s actually my most listened to of the side projects, as I’m often in the mood to be dark and introspective. The title track is a bit “old man yells at butt” as he admonishes society’s over-reliance on digital connections, social media, etc… but I can’t really disagree with the point, either.
Here’s the eerily stunning video created for the title track as well.