Humanz – Gorillaz

Alternative Hip Hop/Electronica

Throughout music history we can identify artists that have emerged to pioneer, shape, and define their musical genres. Any one of us can name a handful of musicians who we feel have made a significant impact on their respective genres. We have the Led Zeppelins and The Rolling Stones of rock, the NWA and Eminems of rap, the Eric Claptons and B.B. Kings of blues and they have all been successful in molding their respective genres into what we know them as today.

Once in a great while a musical act emerges that pushes the boundaries of modern music and successfully melds components of different genres into something completely new and unique. Music that may be hard to fully appreciate at the time comes to fruition and, thanks to the hard work and creativity of a few talented individuals, shifts the musical landscape for good. This is Gorillaz. Who would have thought that after all these years, in the year 2017, they would continue to be pioneers in the musical scene just as they were after their first release back in the early 2000’s?

As many people may already know Gorillaz can be categorized as a “virtual band” given the animated virtual characters (crafted by the talented Jamie Hewlett) that represent the group in place of the actual musicians behind the scenes. This really adds a ton of character to the group and makes for some really fun music videos and live shows. What is even more impressive is Gorillaz historic ability to blend genres of rock, rap, r&b, soul, blues and more into music that sounds not only modern but unexampled. In addition we have seen Gorillaz change their approach to music with each and every album release. Some of this is undoubtedly influenced by the changes in the musical landscape that happen between album releases. In this case it has been a little over seven years since Gorillaz released Plastic Beach. (Edit. Gorillaz did also release The Fall in late 2010, a free album recorded by Albarn on an IPad during his US tour.)

Like Plastic Beach, Humanz, the latest record from Albarn and crew, fuses with the modern musical landscape while still maintaining what makes Gorillaz so unique. Also like Plastic Beach, Humanz is riddled with featured artists on nearly every track. Appearances include Pusha T, Vince Staples, De La Soul, Danny Brown, and Popcaan just to name a few. In many cases the featured artists are the dominant vocal forces on the tracks with Damon Albarn adding the signature Gorillaz vocals.

The music and production are as good as ever thanks to Albarn and crew. The album constantly shifts form with r&b and gospel harmonies giving way to powerful rap performances and electronic beats. Even if two songs on Humanz sound completely different from one another they are all united under Albarn’s powerful vision and message.

The concept for Humanz evolved from Albarn’s vision of the apocalyptic aftermath of a Donald Trump presidency. What is crazy here is that Albarn’s concept came about back in January 2016 when Donald Trump becoming president was still, in most people’s minds, a slim-to-none possibility. This was far before the flood of anti-Trump albums that we experienced at the end of 2016 into the beginning of 2017. What I respect about Albarn’s approach is that he is subtle in his delivery. This is in no way a preachy anti-Trump album but instead a stylized vision of the apocalypse, post-Trump victory. In fact, the album never names or even directly references Trump once. Albarn did this for a few very good reasons that I won’t get into here but you can read about in multiple interviews with him on the internet. In my opinion this approach is refreshing because Albarn’s dissatisfaction with Donald Trump in no way dominates the album but instead was the driving force behind its conception.

Some of my favorite tracks on the album include Saturnz Barz (featuring Popcaan), Ascension (featuring Vince Staples), Charger (featuring Grace Jones), and Let Me Out (featuring Mavis Staples and Pusha T). In addition I really love Danny Brown’s verse at the end of Submission. Is Humanz the best Gorillaz album ever? No, probably not. Is Humanz just as important and impactful as their past releases? Defiantly. What we have here is one of the most electrifying, dark and ominous pieces of work form Albarn and crew so far that still manages to maintain that fun party sound we have all come to expect. I really look forward to the next Gorillaz release. I just hope it does not take another seven years!

See you next week.