Electro Ballads, Animated antics, and Melancholy: Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez – Gorillaz

Courtesy of the artist

By: Ovo Grant-Oyeye

In January of this year, I was pleasantly surprised by a new Gorillaz single sitting on my YouTube homepage. When you get into an artist that already has a substantial body of work, it’s an interesting experience to be part of the fanbase waiting for their subsequent releases. This was the case for me as I listened to “Momentary Bliss” for the first time. It was one of those songs that really clicked right away. Everything from the instrumentals, to the music video to slowthai shouting “It makes me sick to think you ain’t happy in your skin,” make the song entertaining and unlike anything they’ve released before. Though the accompanying music video definitely wasn’t one of those five-minute epics we’ve seen from Gorillaz in the past, it’s always nice to see the band in action and continuing to add to their deep and sometimes nonsensical lore. After that surprising release, six more singles were released with accompanying music videos. While the idea of releasing one single each month until a full album release isn’t new, the teasers and anticipation of a new video were, in my opinion, instrumental in building excitement for each coming release. The first three releases off of Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez were easily some of the best tracks in their entire discography, and the accompanying music videos were a nice addition. “Desolee,” featuring Fatmounta Diawara, is without a doubt my favourite song on the album.  Meanwhile, songs like “Chalk Tablet” and “Valley of the Pagans” more accurately capture the Plastic Beach-esque sense of youthful exuberance, with a feeling of longing for something better. Hip-hop music has always been relevant to Gorillaz’s sound—with UK-based artists typically getting the spotlight— and in this case, slowthai and Octavion both provided great features. Another strong point was the inclusion of English Gothic legends Robert Smith’s vocals and Peter Hook’s bass on “Strange Timez” and “Aries,” respectively.

As a whole, I see this album as a sort of a return to form for Gorillaz, with Damon Albarn proving that he and the characters still have something left to give. The album really gets a nice balance of sounds from different genres while maintaining the usual Gorillaz sound you expect. The features are numerous, but it feels they were chosen from a place of genuinely wanting to work with the artist. Unlike previous albums, it doesn’t feel like the virtual band members have taken a step back or become irrelevant. Musically, the record scrapes the surface of the pre-Humanz phase of Gorillaz. While the visuals are okay and fit the songs, they don’t have the same continuity as those on the plastic beach and are nowhere near as iconic as those from Gorillaz or Demon Days. Still, Song Machine is a fun experiment with collaboration that doesn’t sacrifice the Gorillaz we have come to love.