Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Music Review 3-2-10: Plastic Beach Edition!

Gorillaz - Plastic Beach (March 2010)
Genre: Pop, Electronic, Trip-Hop, Alternative
Grade: A
Standout Tracks: "Empire Ants", "Welcome To The World of the Plastic Beach", "Glitter Freeze", "On Melancholy Hill", "Cloud of Unknowing"

One of the most anticipated releases in recent memory finally completely hit the airwaves a few nights ago via a stream on NPR Radio. It is the newest record entitled Plastic Beach from the infamous virtual supergroup Gorillaz,
and it is one HELL of a trip. Various websites, forums, and message boards all across the internet have been clammering, searching for leaks of the album ever since the tracklist hit the press. All of a sudden, people were wondering just what Damon Albarn, alongside the unique stylistic artwork of Jamie Hewlett, and the star-studded cast of collaboration artists had in store for us this go around.
And it does not disappoint one bit. Things get kicked off into gear in traditional Gorillaz style, taking a strategy out of the Demon Days playbook and opening with a beautiful orchestral track, that segways into the perfect introduction to this far off distant land that has been painted for us in "Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach", which features the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble laying down some sick
horn instrumentals as only they can do, as west coast hip hop superstar Snoop Dogg kicks things into gear for us, throwing down a few trade mark laidback verses, keeping your head bobbing right along. We follow this up with "White Flag", which is another great pairing of hip-hop musician in Kano, Bashy, over the backdrop of tranquil strings from The Lebanese National Orchestra. This immeditally gives you the kind of tropical atmosphere you'd expect from an album named Plastic Beach.

Damon suddenly takes a darker, more club-music sort of turn with "Rhinestone Eyes", singing in his classic high-pitched tone striking lyrics such as "When the paralytic dreams that we all seem to keep, drive on engines till they weep, with future pixels in factories far away." Keeping the momentum going, we head to two of the songs that were released prior to the full album dropping in "Stylo" and "Superfast Jellyfish". Damon and Mos Def provide some great vocals ontop of a very heavy synthetic bassline, which ultimately leads to the legendary Bobby Womack belting a few powerful, soulful lines that just captivates your ears and leaves you wanting more. De La Soul decides to give us some comic relief in "Superfast Jellyfish", throwing down some of the wildest, goofiest lyrics you could ever imagine. But somehow, it completely works and doesn't make your interest wane, but rather keeps you guessing as to just what your in store for next.

It's that kind of unpredictability that makes albums like Plastic Beach such as a mesmerizing journey. Whereas Demon Days at times had a very cold underlining demeanor behind it, Plastic Beach seems to have more of a charming, exotic kind of mood. This doesn't let up, as you could practically imagine yourself walking along the sand, exploring some foreign, remote location in the first few minutes of "Empire Ants". This turns into a discovery of something astonishing, as the electronic beatdown strikes up with Little Dragon throw out a few R&B-esque vocal lines down in one of the shining points of the album. The surrealistic dance party doesn't stop there, as "Glitter Freeze" hits you full force, as Albarn delivers something out of the Ladytron playbook, blasting you in the face with powerful layers of sound, with Mark E Smith cackling in the background.

Finally, the track and collaboration I was most excited about, the raspy voice of Lou Reed in "Some Kind Of Nature" hits. The duo of Reed and Albarn offer exactly what you'd expect out of the frontmen from such huge acts as The Velvet Underground and Blur, and that is a fantastic quality hook-and-sinker anthem about the nature and soul of the plastic world around us. We transition to the most up-tempo, peaceful, and calming song of the entire album "On Melancholy Hill", which is just something that could easily brighten your day a little after even the most mundane of days. "Broken" keeps the carefree momentum going, the mellow setting becoming more established. The next track is entitled "Sweepstakes" and is essentially Mos Def
having the spotlight shined upon him in the one track that intially doesn't really fit in with the rest of the release, but at the same brings a very colorful ride with Def's creativity with the trumpets of the Brass Ensemble making it all groovy in the background. "Plastic Beach" the song is it's own psychedelic trip in it's own right, putting Damon Albarn back alongside Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash fame, which is almost a tribute to the their side project The Good, The Bad, & The Queen.

We finish things off with the trio of songs in the serenading ballad of "To Binge", the eerie crooning of Womack in "Cloud of Unknowing", and the gripping 70s-esque electronic breakdown "Pirate Jet", which almost feels like the perfect outro and synopsis of the ride your about to leave, as Albarn ends with a very reassuring verse.
"It's all good news now / because we left the taps, running / for a hundred years / so drink into the drink / a plastic cup of drink / drink with a couple of people, the plastic creating people. Still connected to the moment it began."
In the end, Plastic Beach is a record I will personally be listening to for a very long time, as I did with Demon Days in high school, and the self-titled in late middle school. The music of Gorillaz has progressed and evolved quite a lot over the years, and it is a real treat to always see what they're cooking up. Plastic Beach is one hell of a serving alright!