Monday, June 30, 2014

Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots (2014)

I must admit, that I have a thing about Damon Albarn. Ever since I stumbled upon Blur, I kind of devoted myself to Albarn. I have spent years trying to get to know his style and creative techniques and how his outlook on life has evolved along with his way of making music. But when talking about a guy like Albarn, who has had wide variety of side projects and who most likely will continue having more of them in the future, you can´t really say anything too definite. And even though "Everyday Robots" is a very autobiographical piece of music, it still leaves you wondering.

It´s a conceptual album, the overall idea being that every song on the record is rooted in a real life experiences. The record gives a really eclectic visual, featuring scenes from Albarn's childhood and youth, as well as the times after Damon had decided it was time to grow up. Each track on the album is like a time capsule, giving it´s listener an insight into a certain period of Albarn´s life. Yet the record won´t give you an autobiographical overview, it´s rather a collection of variety of essences, which only try to recreate and convey the atmospheres of those memories.

Many critics have stated that what Damon is dealing with in "Everyday Robots", is midlife crisis. I think not. Firstly because, when taking into account Damon´s previous projects, solo album "Everyday Robots" seems only a natural continuation to his previous work, it fits the pattern. Also, because of the same pattern it´s hard to take Damon´s solo album as a indicator, that from now on he should be defined as solo artist. That kind of certainty just wouldn´t be Albarn´s style.

Secondly, this album is rather a sign, that Damon has made peace with his past, when giving us such a peaceful introspective, which instead of regrets is rather driven by idea that "it was what it was".

The title track was the first single off the album. We know how the story with singles is – they are the appetizers of the main dish, the full-length album. Making "Everyday Robots" the first single was somewhat bold move, since it isn´t your average love-at-first-listen type of song. Talking unprofessionally, it leaves the impression of some weird and creepy hospital machinery making noise that manages to sound like music. As a first taste of the then upcoming album, Damon again proved that for him there´s still boundaries to expand; this mixture of trip hop and downtempo wasn´t exactly something Damon had been practicing publicly a lot in the past, though his latest work with Gorillaz could have easily predicted it. What is spectacular about the single, is how it really found it´s true perspective when appearing as a first track on the full album. Considering the overall mood of the record, it´s a great icebreaker, it even starts with a joke: a sample of 1940-50s comic performer Lord Buckley’s hipsemantic rant about Spanish explorer Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. It´s minimalistic structure and accurately weighted use of instruments makes it sound almost too sterile. And when taking into account the lyrics focusing on nature/technology dichotomy it could be that it´s almost a scientific piece of music. For a nostalgic Blur-fan it could be a disappointment, but for a fan who has been bothered to keep up with Albarn´s work over the years, it´s a total grower.

Another, second single from the record, Lonely Press Play", is also a track with it´s own distinguishable beat, considering the title track "Everyday Robots", it works almost as a second chapter of the same book. Unlike "Everyday Robots" this one is lyrically more self-focused and has a softer tune, although this too comes off as very melancholic. Compared to title track this one is definitely a safer bet and whoever lost interest after the first, should have gained it back with the second one. I know people who did.

Last single I managed to hear just before the official release of the album was "Heavy Seas of Love", which included guest vocals from father of ambient music, Brian Eno. As Damon has said, he and Eno are neighbours, so it´s only reasonable that he contributed to Albarn´s debut. Who wouldn´t ask Eno to contribute to their debut album if they´re already going to the same gym? "Everyday Robots" has got many highlights but perhaps "Heavy Seas of Love" is the most important, since as the last track of the album it´s purpose is to provide concluding emotions and thoughts. And if the album as a whole manages to make it´s listener a bit too sad, then "Heavy Seas of Love" works successfully as the soothing balm. But let´s make this one clear – it still most definitely isn´t a happy song.

"Mr. Tembo" is the is THE pop song of the album. Solely the fact that it was dedicated to a orphaned baby elephant makes it the most easily loveable track. The choir make a good addition, giving the song extra layers. Paradoxically, even the choir´s motivational tone won´t make one too happy when listening to this - baby elephants without mummy elephants are sad topic to sing about. "Mr. Tembo" best exemplifies how Albarn has been influenced by his experiences in Africa and it´s the only one on the record that does - this song wasn´t meant to be on the album until producer Richard Russell urged it to be and it kind of shows, because considering the overall sound, it´s kind of off-topic. Though awfully (bitter)sweet.

Talking about the most controversial song on the album, „You and Me“, I must say it is personally my favourite from the album. I love the way this song slowly builds itself up and gets to great heights. And that´s what this song is about; it´s about getting high, more precisely about heroin, the most straightforward lyrics in the song being „Tin foil and a lighter, the ship across / Five days on, /Two days off“. One of my friends once said that doing heroin is like getting one thousand orgasms at once and „You and Me“ kind of proves it. It´s the one song on the album that gives very strong visuals about ultimate rapture and satisfactory and regret about wanting more. It sounds honestly magical and though the name of the song almost indicates that it´s going to be your average love song, it´s not. It´s about love, love that is super unhealthy and very very bad for you.

Though I can say "Everyday Robots" is one of my favourite albums from this year so far, the overall electronic and triphoppy sound makes me miss the raw guitar sound that Blur´s other mastermind, Graham Coxon did with Blur on their album "13" in 1999. Perhaps next time, besides - "Everyday Robots" is only a layover, nothing final, 46 years of age can mean that one is only halfway through. For now I expect nothing and only great things from this man, though he has already established himself as a great musician, keep in mind that he has this weird habit of surpassing himself when creative. The end.

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