It’s a bit sad to say that whenever Gorillaz release new music, all the other artists releasing material at the same time fall to the wayside, but that’s what happens when a band has had such an impact on contemporary music. Humanz is the fifth album from musician Damon Albarn and illustrator Jamie Hewlett following 2011’s The Fall. There’s been a lot of great releases over the last week including new LPs from Kendrick Lamar, Willie Nelson, and Tara Jane O’Neil but Humanz is the only album this writer can think about so let’s jump into it, shall we?
To begin with, Humanz, is a step beyond the catchy pop albums the cartoon rock band is known for. While its predecessors, Plastic Beach and The Fall flirted with the idea of club and dance music Gorillaz newest addition to their discography is a full on party album. This can be best exemplified not only by the energy on each track, but by the amount of features found on the album. Everyone from Grace Jones to De La Soul to Carly Simon (yep, Carly Simon) is on Humanz creating an atmosphere as though a thousand people in the room listening with you. This is not to say the lyrical witticism and substance has been lost entirely. Albarn is still present on each track, providing his own voice on hooks and some verses here and there (visually represented by the character 2-D).
Of the twenty-six tracks on the LP, it’s hard to choose which songs I wanted to write about but I choose four that represent Humanz best to keep things short. The first track that stood out was the second track after the intro titled, Ascension, featuring Vince Staples. Part of the reason this feature works is that there aren’t artists experimenting within their genres like Vince Staples which is probably why the twenty-three-year-old California native has found himself on everyone’s lists of favorite current rappers. A lot of Staples’ choices when it comes to his music remind me of Gorillaz including the unique promotional videos and the eclectic sound that takes cues from genres outside the status quo. On paper and in reality, Vince Staples and Gorillaz are a match made in heaven so when he introduces the album with this track it’s flawless and breathes new life into a band known for nothing less.
The next track was my favorite; Charger featuring, the incomparable, Grace Jones. The song demonstrates Gorillaz finding themselves not only a favorite among fans of what’s current, but also staying true to their cult status. There’s hints of the band’s older material on this single with the darker tone delivered by Albarn’s understated voice. Grace Jones is a great addition to Charger with her singing style that demands listeners’ full attention. The track also has a slower rhythm to it, borrowing from the southern 808-driven hip hop. I wouldn’t be surprised if this song is played at most parties this summer.
Another key song on Humanz is the minimal Andromeda. D.R.A.M. is on this track but if you’re not listening close enough, you might miss him on the hook. The song is fast-paced but not intimidating. One can’t help but visualize sitting in the back seat of your friend’s car drunk, being driven home from a party at 3AM. Long story short, it’s a great come-down song.
Finally, we come to the last chosen track to represent Gorillaz newest record, Out of Body. Of the many things Damon Albarn is known for doing under the moniker Gorillaz is bringing artists to the forefront that people may not hear otherwise. Out of Body is a full-on dance track featuring three artists I haven’t heard before; Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz, and Imani Vonshà. This caused me to do some research on back stories which I love. Gorillaz have gone from being the band tastemakers mention to becoming the tastemakers themselves. Albarn also wisely steps back vocally for the most part and lets the other three artists carry the track while he sits back and does the production work.
Humanz by Gorillaz is a lot of things; it sounds like every genre and feeds every emotion of listeners. The album, while lengthy, doesn’t bore us at any point and yet, fans won’t feel over-stuffed when their done chewing on its content. After a six-year-wait for the LP, it’s satisfying. This writer, along with the rest of Gorillaz’s fans, just hope it doesn’t take that long again.
Click here to hear Charger (feat. Grace Jones).
– By Mike Metcalf