Saturday, May 10, 2014

Review: Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

A melancholic, intimate tone marks the new album.
 by Dustin van Wyk 

Damon Albarn’s eclectic music career continues with his debut solo effort “Everyday Robots”. His career has been a constant ebb and flow from humble beginnings singing about British doldrum suburban living in the 90s, becoming one of the most successful virtual rock stars at the turn of the century, and globetrotting through a plethora of projects that have seen him work with the likes of Toumani Diabaté , Flea , Paul Simonon , Tony Allen and Simon Tong.  His ability to innovate by morphing genres and cultural arrangements together through a patchwork of instrumentation, while still retaining his British pop sensibilities, has made him one of the leading musical voices of his generation.

“Everyday Robots” veers away from any of Albarn’s previous projects as he experiments with a more stripped-down approach that is made up of wonky piano lines, shimmering ukulele strokes, haunting strings, dirty acoustic guitars, gospel harmonies and percussions constructed from loose  grimy drum machine patterns.  The subdued nature of the music allows Damon’s murky vocal performance to become the main focus of every track as his lyrics move from his distaste of modern technology to the more conventional worn-out relationship themes.

Album openers show Albarn’s songwriting abilities are as sharp as ever, with “Hostile”, an acoustic-led track that utilises a hip-hop inspired back beat over ascending piano arpeggios and group vocal harmonies, the song sways between imitate folk to orchestral chamber pop while his groaning vocals hold the song together with its melancholic mallet.  “Lonely Press Play” falls into a gentle lounge jazz ballad with its light key strokes, disjointed percussions and flickering violin stabs.

“Mr Tembo”, a song written about Damon’s experience he had with an elephant while in Tanzania, provides an immediate shift in tone with its bright ukulele chord progression, brittle African rhythms, humorous vocal and saxophone cuts and uplifting choir voice chants that engulf the entire song.

Despite the variety on offer, the album is constantly put into a languid state through Albarn’s sighing vocals and slow delivery. It provides consistency and allows the album to be enjoyed as a whole product, but fails to produce any standout singles as all the songs meld into one melancholic dream.

“Selfish Giant” and album closer “Heavy Seas of Love" contain the only features on the LP with Brian Eno taking vocal duties on the latter as he compliments Albarn’s lethargic bellowing. The song struggles to evoke any form of intense emotion as it ends the album with its fading climax.

Albarn digs deep into his backlog of sounds and experiences as he brings forth an album drenched in introspective storytelling and modern day cynicisms. It’s an effort best enjoyed and appreciated when put into context with his previous musical adventures, as it proves to be his most intimate and personal musical expression to date.