When Damon Albarn announced the Song Machine project earlier this year, most of us gave him an enthusiastic benefit of the doubt. Three months and an equal number of episodes later and it appears as though this project with his virtual band, Gorillaz, will stand as one more example of where the trailblazing British rocker emerged ahead of the game. Of course, Albarn and co-founder Jamie Hewlett could have no knowledge that a pandemic would sweep the globe in 2020, not only threatening hundreds of thousands of lives but also changing how we digest entertainment. But their formula works all the same.
Each day has now become its own scavenger hunt for distraction and, more importantly, hope. The artists and personalities who have embraced this new reality — be it Neil Young with his fireside concert series, dozens of artists streaming performances and recording collaborations, or actress Florence Pugh sharing her culinary gifts — will be remembered fondly and may even find they have a leg up in an evolving entertainment industry when all this is over. While Gorillaz haven’t quite become a daily source of consumable content through the Song Machine, any rock project dropping multiple instrumentals, a brand-new track (so far ripe with exciting collaborations), and an accompanying music video each month has a leg up on a notoriously slow-moving industry and genre.
Or, as fictional member Russell Hobbs puts it: “Whatever the hell’s coming, we’re primed and ready to produce like there’s no tomorrow.”
The mystery monthly project has thus far yielded the trippy noise jam “Momentary Bliss” featuring Slowthai and UK punks Slaves, the bossa nova-indebted “Désolé” with the elegant Fatoumata Diawara, and now “Aries”, a stretched-out groove featuring New Order legend Peter Hook on bass and producer Georgia on percussion. The latest episode, like its predecessors, takes a Gorillaz vibe and imbues it with the talents and styles of its guests. The result is a new wavey, beat-oriented long pour suitable for cruising the streets — as the animated band do in the Hewlett-directed video — or holding a spot on a very chill dance floor. After a stint of disappointing albums, Gorillaz seem to have found their edge again by small-balling things once per month.
For Fans Of: Gorillaz have always been a collab band, and that can be overwhelming — no different than a hip-hop album with way too many features. To get a surprise track each month that — thus far — doesn’t feel crowded and puts its guests to proper use has been a treat. This version of Gorillaz — one that goes with the flow and turns chaos into music once each month — has to appeal to anyone who’s ever subscribed to any sort of curated monthly product. A little surprise and some really thoughtful tunes have made Song Machine one of the most anticipated drops of any given month.
Best Moment: For as wonderful as the track and video make the listener feel — like we’re outdoors or even out partying and normal again — you have to appreciate 2-D’s PSA at the conclusion, appropriately delivered from behind a tightly fastened bandanna. It does raise the question: Can cartoons contract Coronavirus?
Where to Go From Here: Well, to May, duh.
Other Great Songs This Week: Charli XCX – “Forever”, Neil Young and Crazy Horse – “Shut It Down”, Tash Sultana – “Pretty Lady”, Phoebe Bridgers – “Kyoto”, Ed O’Brien and Laura Marling – “Cloak of the Night”, and Laura Marling – “Held Down”. Big week for Marling!
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