A debut after 20 years
Damon Albarn might not be a household name in the States, but his work has penetrated our radio stations for the past 20 years. In the ’90s Albarn fronted English rock band Blur, who scored a hit with the incredibly catchy chorus of “woo hoo” in “Song 2.”
During the past decade Albarn focused on the virtual band Gorillaz, a collaboration with visual artist Jamie Hewlett whose second album “Demon Days” won a Grammy in 2006. His most recent work includes collaborations with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and members of English bands The Clash and The Verve. After such a long and varied career it’s odd to call “Everyday Robots” a debut, but this is the first studio release under Albarn’s own name.
I was a little underwhelmed on my first listen through this record. There is a melancholy that hangs over the entire album, and I didn’t find anything particularly striking or compelling to ensure I’d be back for more. But as the story often goes, this album grows on you with time, sinking hooks into your head slowly and quietly until you start singing along.
While the songs might grow more appealing, the sense of melancholy doesn’t disappear. With a few exceptions, the songs on this record are slow, mellow and moody.
The single “Lonely Press Play” has a relaxed hip-hop groove supported by some very subtle instrumentation which gives Albarn’s vocal room to shine. His voice has audible imperfections and a fragility that fits seamlessly with the aesthetic of the track. It’s not depressing, it’s not happy and it’s not particularly energetic … it’s just cool. I mean 1950s Miles Davis cool. “Everyday Robots” exudes a sense of confidence in it’s melancholy that shows Albarn’s control and comfort with the music he’s making.
The percussion sounds on “Everyday Robots” are particularly noteworthy for contributing to the sense of “cool” as well creating an aesthetic that gives the album a unified sound. The foundation of the beats are synthesized, replicating hip-hop bass drum and hi-hat sounds in familiar rhythms. Layered over these basic tracks are all sorts of hard-to-define non-traditional percussion sounds.
Throughout the album you will hear things that sound like clocks, cups and cash registers in addition to a bevy of percussive shakers and electronic sounds. This results in beats that sound as if they are played by a group of musicians and not just one drummer, a concept Albarn certainly learned from his time spent studying and creating with African drummer Tony Allen.
This principle could apply to the entire album, with each song contributing to the sound of the whole instead of existing in a vacuum.
There are transitions between many of the songs and two smaller instrumental tracks that help relate the songs around them. It’s obvious Albarn is concerned with the entire experience of “Everyday Robots,” and he is mostly successful.
The album loses some steam in the last few tracks and ends with an almost comical vocal cameo from Brian Eno. But all in all, “Everyday Robots” is a very good album that is deserving of the 20 years experience attached to the name on its cover.
3 1/2 stars out of 5.
DOWNLOAD NOW: “Lonely Press Play”