Gorillaz has been around for twenty years, and for this momentous anniversary the world’s best virtual band has graced us with Song Machine, Season one: Strange Timez. Damon Albarn’s ground-breaking project has made new strides yet again with this latest release. This record is the full compilation of singles produced through the year — some of which have been uploaded to their Youtube channel since January of 2020, and is still releasing new music videos as of this writing.
Song Machine, Season one presents itself like a jukebox of greatest hits, except each single is completely new and showcases a great number of collaborations, some of which are legends in their own right. Robert Smith from The Cure, St. Vincent, Peter Hook of New Order, Sir Elton John and a multitude of other artists from across the globe are featured in these tracks. These features not only enrich the songs that they’re in, Gorillaz graciously craft their songs to fit the style of each artist, making for a very rich and vibrant record.
Another thing that makes this project special is the current state of the world that it was created in. Living in times of the pandemic has taken its toll on the music industry, and has influenced how people work all over the world. As a result, most of the recordings were done remotely through the internet. Chalk it up to the band’s expertise or the mastery of their craft — as it doesn’t sound like these songs were patched up haphazardly at all. On the contrary, each song is equally fun and well crafted in its own right, despite the restrictions our times may pose.
My biggest take away from this record is how a delight it is to listen to. There’s a natural melancholy in Albarn’s voice, but the beat work and production in these songs give it a feeling of aural bliss. The track “Aries” finds the narrator lamenting on their loneliness: “I feel so isolated without you / I can’t play a happy tune on my own.” Yet it’s played in synthpop that’s too irresistible to not move along with. Elton John provides his wonderful voice in the piano ballad “The Pink Phantom”. His grandiose and larger-than-life performance contrasts with the subdued tones of rapper 6lack and the somber musings of 2D. It makes for a dreamy listen to sink your worries into.
Along with this awesome array of singles comes a variety of sounds and styles from all over the world. ”Désolé” features a jazzy and tribal fusion while “Pac-Man” is hip-hop with chip tune elements. “Momentary Bliss” takes elements from grime and dub reggae. Gorillaz is not a group you can fit into a box, and this 17-track collection shows how much they’re still expanding their horizons. I highly recommend this album. For the full experience, also check out their respective videos on Youtube.