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Rap - Released March 3, 2010 | Parlophone UK

Distinctions 4 étoiles Rock and Folk - 5/6 de Magic - The Qobuz Ideal Discography - Pitchfork: Best New Music
Gorillaz began as a lark but turned serious once it became Damon Albarn’s primary creative outlet following the slow dissolve of Blur. Delivered five years after the delicate whimsical melancholy of 2005’s Demon Days, Plastic Beach is an explicit sequel to its predecessor, its story line roughly picking up in the dystopian future where the last album left off, its music offering a grand, big-budget expansion of Demon Days, spinning off its cameo-crammed blueprint. Traces of Albarn’s Monkey opera can be heard, particularly in the hypnotic Mideastern pulse of “White Flag,” but Damon’s painstaking pancultural pop junk-mining no longer surprises -- when hip-hop juts up against Brit-pop, it’s expected -- yet it still has the capacity to delight no matter which direction the Gorillaz may swing. Lou Reed’s crotchety croak on “Some Kind of Nature” has the same kind of gravitational pull as Mos Def leading the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble through the intensely circling “Sweepstakes,” while the group reaches new heights of sparkling pop on “Superfast Jellyfish,” aided by the return of De La Soul -- the rappers who propelled “Feel Good Inc.” -- and an appearance from Gruff Rhys, the Super Furry Animals frontman who is an ideal fit for Gorillaz (possibly because SFA’s genre-bending pop and Pete Fowler artwork clearly paved the way for Albarn and Jamie Hewlett’s collaboration). A common thread among all these tracks is that they find Albarn ceding the spotlight to his fellow musicians, preferring to be the puppetmaster behind the curtain, and Plastic Beach works best when he’s the composer and producer, finding hidden strengths within his guests -- having Mick Jones and Paul Simonon for the elastic title track, coaxing some powerful performances out of Bobby Womack -- but often when Albarn takes center stage his laconic drawl lets the air out of the balloon. Curiously, much of this arrives toward the beginning of the album, the record gaining momentum as it unspools, working toward its climax, but the overall album accentuates moody texture over pop hooks. This emphasis means Plastic Beach is the first Gorillaz album to play like a soundtrack to a cartoon -- which isn’t entirely a bad thing, because as Albarn grows as a composer, he’s a master of subtly shifting moods and intricately threaded allusions, often creating richly detailed collages that are miniature marvels. Ironically, these individual pieces don’t add up to an overall masterpiece, possibly because the narrative is convoluted and strained, getting in the way of the pure musical flow, but also because it’s hard not to shake the feeling that this is a transitional effort, pointing toward a day when Damon Albarn will feel no need to front a band, not even in a cartoon guise. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 29, 2018 | Parlophone UK

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Damon is never far away. In 2017 while on tour with the Gorillaz, his imagination was already conceiving The Now Now on GarageBand software under the rooftops of American hotels. The result? Eleven fine-tuned tracks with Jamie Hewlett and his team. Here, Blur’s leader avoids surrounding himself too much. The record Humanz, released a year earlier, was flooded with a good fifteen featuring artists including Pusha T, Benjamine Clemantine and Peven Everett. The Now Now does the opposite. Where Humanz is hip-hop, collective and extroverted, The Now Now is pop, intimate and melancholic (see Fire Flies). This sixth opus has the amplitude of an outdoor, off-screen, out-of-studio design, all the while maintaining a good dose of self-reflection. He now surrounds himself with the crème de la crème (well-beaten but far from being out of date): George Benson (on guitar on Humility), Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle (in Hollywood). He’s halved the number of his tracks and moved away from crossover genres (funk-dub-reggae-dance) towards a retro-futuristic groove. Albarn confirms, as if that’s even necessary, that he still has a lot to say. © Charlotte Saintoin/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 28, 2017 | Parlophone UK

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On 2017's Humanz, Damon Albarn returns to Gorillaz after a seven-year hiatus -- a period when he busied himself with two operas, a solo album, and a Blur reunion -- and reconnects with the collaborative instincts that drove the band's first two albums. Plastic Beach -- the 2010 album that served as the group's last major opus (The Fall, released just months later, was that LP's bittersweet coda) -- found Albarn stepping toward the center stage but on Humanz he recedes, giving his collaborators the spotlight and softening whatever complicated narrative he and illustrator Jamie Hewlett devised for their cartoon group's fourth phase. Maybe this is why Humanz feels wild and unruly in a way Plastic Beach never did: the emphasis is on the individual cuts, not the grand concept. Some themes are woven throughout the record -- there's a political undercurrent, although the upheavals of Trump and Brexit are never addressed directly; there's a heavy reliance on R&B and hip-hop -- but the album seems pleasingly scattershot as it bounces from guest to guest. Its messiness suits the digital era, when it's possible to swipe from style to style without a second thought, but Humanz isn't haphazard. Albarn deliberately sculpts each cut, giving plenty of space for Vince Staples, Grace Jones, Danny Brown, Anthony Hamilton, Mavis Staples, Pusha T, and longtime Gorillaz mainstay De La Soul to roam. That list of guest artists underscores how Humanz feels connected to soul in a way Plastic Beach didn't, but with its careening, carnivalesque hooks and skeletal 2-Tone spook -- not to mention how the whole thing is anchored on "Busted and Blue," a Damon solo track that could've slid onto Everyday Robots -- it's clearly an Albarn project. But even with its heavy, heavy R&B vibe and roiling politics, Humanz feels strangely uplifting, as if every musician who entered the studio found solace in the act of creation. That's why "We Got the Power" -- a collaboration with Savages singer Jehnny Beth and Damon's onetime rival Noel Gallagher -- is such a fitting closer: in dark times, it finds hope and inspiration in the power of the collective, which is a testament to what Albarn intends to do with Gorillaz. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 11, 2014 | Parlophone UK

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Pop - Released April 11, 2014 | Parlophone UK

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Pop - Released April 11, 2014 | Parlophone UK

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Alternative & Indie - Released May 23, 2005 | Parlophone UK

Damon Albarn went to great pains to explain that the first Gorillaz album was a collaboration between him, cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, and producer Dan the Automator, but any sort of pretense to having the virtual pop group seem like a genuine collaborative band was thrown out the window for the group's long-awaited 2005 sequel, Demon Days. Hewlett still provides new animation for Gorillaz -- although the proposed feature-length film has long disappeared -- but Dan the Automator is gone, leaving Albarn as the unquestioned leader of the group. This isn't quite similar to Blur, a genuine band that faltered after Graham Coxon decided he had enough, leaving Damon behind to construct the muddled Think Tank largely on his own. No, Gorillaz were always designed as a collective, featuring many contributors and producers, all shepherded by Albarn, the songwriter, mastermind, and ringleader. Hiding behind Hewlett's excellent cartoons gave Albarn the freedom to indulge himself, but it also gave him focus since it tied him to a specific concept. Throughout his career, Albarn always was at his best when writing in character -- to the extent that anytime he wrote confessionals in Blur, they sounded stagy -- and Gorillaz not only gave him an ideal platform, it liberated him, giving him the opportunity to try things he couldn't within the increasingly dour confines of Blur. It wasn't just that the cartoon concept made for light music -- on the first Gorillaz album, Damon sounded as if he were having fun for the first time since Parklife. But 2005 is a much different year than 2001, and if Gorillaz exuded the heady, optimistic, future-forward vibes of the turn of the millennium, Demon Days is as theatrically foreboding as its title, one of the few pop records made since 9/11 that captures the eerie unease of living in the 21st century. Not really a cartoony feel, in other words, but Gorillaz indulged in doom and gloom from their very first single, "Clint Eastwood," so this is not unfamiliar territory, nor is it all that dissimilar from the turgid moodiness of Blur's 2003 Think Tank. But where Albarn seemed simultaneously constrained and adrift on that last Blur album -- attempting to create indie rock, yet unsure how since messiness contradicts his tightly wound artistic impulses -- he's assured and masterful on Demon Days, regaining his flair for grand gestures that served him so well at the height of Britpop, yet tempering his tendency to overreach by keeping the music lean and evocative through his enlistment of electronica maverick Danger Mouse as producer. Demon Days is unified and purposeful in a way Albarn's music hasn't been since The Great Escape, possessing a cinematic scope and a narrative flow, as the curtain unveils to the ominous, morose "Last Living Souls" and then twists and winds through valleys, detours, and wrong paths -- some light, some teeming with dread -- before ending up at the haltingly hopeful title track. Along the way, cameos float in and out of the slipstream and Albarn relies on several familiar tricks: the Specials are a touchstone, brooding minor key melodies haunt the album, there are some singalong refrains, while a celebrity recites a lyric (this time, it's Dennis Hopper). Instead of sounding like musical crutches, this sounds like an artist who knows his strengths and uses them as an anchor so he can go off and explore new worlds. Chief among the strengths that Albarn relies upon is his ability to find collaborators who can articulate his ideas clearly and vividly. Danger Mouse, whose Grey Album mash-up of the Beatles and Jay-Z was an underground sensation in 2004, gives this music an elasticity and creeping darkness than infects even such purportedly lighthearted moments as "Feel Good Inc." It's a sense of menace that's reminiscent of prime Happy Mondays, so it shouldn't be a surprise that one of the highlights of Demon Days is Shaun Ryder's cameo on the tight, deceptively catchy "Dare." Over a tightly wound four minutes, "Dare" exploits Ryder's iconic Mancunian thug persona within territory that belongs to the Gorillaz -- its percolating beat not too far removed from "19/2000" -- and that's what makes it a perfect distillation of Demon Days: by letting other musicians take center stage and by sharing credit with Danger Mouse, Damon Albarn has created an allegedly anonymous platform whose genius ultimately and quite clearly belongs to him alone. All the themes and ideas on this album have antecedents in his previous work, but surrounded by new collaborators, he's able to present them in a fresh, exciting way. And he has created a monster album here -- not just in its size, but in its Frankenstein construction. It not only eclipses the first Gorillaz album, which in itself was a terrific record, but stands alongside the best Blur albums, providing a tonal touchstone for this decade the way Parklife did for the '90s. While it won't launch a phenomenon the way that 1994 classic did -- Albarn is too much a veteran artist for that and the music is too dark and weird -- Demon Days is still one hell of a comeback for Damon Albarn, who seemed perilously close to forever disappearing into his own ego. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released June 29, 2018 | Parlophone UK

Damon is never far away. In 2017 while on tour with the Gorillaz, his imagination was already conceiving The Now Now on GarageBand software under the rooftops of American hotels. The result? Eleven fine-tuned tracks with Jamie Hewlett and his team. Here, Blur’s leader avoids surrounding himself too much. The record Humanz, released a year earlier, was flooded with a good fifteen featuring artists including Pusha T, Benjamine Clemantine and Peven Everett. The Now Now does the opposite. Where Humanz is hip-hop, collective and extroverted, The Now Now is pop, intimate and melancholic (see Fire Flies). This sixth opus has the amplitude of an outdoor, off-screen, out-of-studio design, all the while maintaining a good dose of self-reflection. He now surrounds himself with the crème de la crème (well-beaten but far from being out of date): George Benson (on guitar on Humility), Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle (in Hollywood). He’s halved the number of his tracks and moved away from crossover genres (funk-dub-reggae-dance) towards a retro-futuristic groove. Albarn confirms, as if that’s even necessary, that he still has a lot to say. © Charlotte Saintoin/Qobuz
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Alternative & Indie - Released May 31, 2018 | Parlophone UK

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Rap - Released March 26, 2001 | Parlophone UK

It's tempting to judge Gorillaz -- Damon Albarn, Tank Girl creator Jamie Hewlett, and Dan "The Automator" Nakamura's virtual band -- just by their brilliantly animated videos and write the project off as another triumph of style over substance. Admittedly, Hewlett's edgy-cute characterizations of 2-D, Gorillaz' pretty boy singer (who looks a cross between the Charlatans' Tim Burgess and Sonic the Hedgehog), sinister bassist Murdoc, whiz-kid guitarist Noodle, and b-boy drummer Russel are so arresting that they almost detract from Gorillaz' music. The amazing "Thriller"-meets-Planet of the Apes clip for "Clint Eastwood" is so visually clever that it's easy to take the song's equally clever, hip-hop-tinged update of the Specials' "Ghost Town" for granted. And initially, Gorillaz' self-titled debut feels incomplete when Hewlett's imagery is removed; the concept of Gorillaz as a virtual band doesn't hold up as well when you can't see the virtual bandmembers. It's too bad that there isn't a DVD version of Gorillaz, with videos for every song, à la the DVD version of Super Furry Animals' Rings Around the World. Musically, however, Gorillaz is a cutely caricatured blend of Albarn's eclectic Brit-pop and Nakamura's equally wide-ranging hip-hop, and it sounds almost as good as the band looks. Albarn has fun sending up Blur's cheeky pop on songs like "5/4" and "Re-Hash," their trip-hop experiments on "New Genious" and "Sound Check," and "Song 2"-like thrash-pop on "Punk" and "M1 A1." Despite the similarities between Albarn's main gig and his contributions here, Gorillaz isn't an Albarn solo album in disguise; Nakamura's bass- and beat-oriented production gives the album an authentically dub and hip-hop-inspired feel, particularly on "Rock the House" and "Tomorrow Comes Today." Likewise, Del tha Funkee Homosapien, Miho Hatori, and Ibrahim Ferrer's vocals ensure that it sounds like a diverse collaboration rather than an insular side project. Instead, it feels like a musical vacation for all parties involved -- a little self-indulgent, but filled with enough fun ideas and good songs to make this virtual band's debut a genuinely enjoyable album. ~ Heather Phares
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Pop - Released April 11, 2014 | Parlophone UK

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Pop - Released April 11, 2014 | Parlophone UK

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£13.99

Pop - Released November 28, 2011 | Parlophone UK

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Alternative & Indie - Released April 28, 2017 | Parlophone UK

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On 2017's Humanz, Damon Albarn returns to Gorillaz after a seven-year hiatus -- a period when he busied himself with two operas, a solo album, and a Blur reunion -- and reconnects with the collaborative instincts that drove the band's first two albums. Plastic Beach -- the 2010 album that served as the group's last major opus (The Fall, released just months later, was that LP's bittersweet coda) -- found Albarn stepping toward the center stage but on Humanz he recedes, giving his collaborators the spotlight and softening whatever complicated narrative he and illustrator Jamie Hewlett devised for their cartoon group's fourth phase. Maybe this is why Humanz feels wild and unruly in a way Plastic Beach never did: the emphasis is on the individual cuts, not the grand concept. Some themes are woven throughout the record -- there's a political undercurrent, although the upheavals of Trump and Brexit are never addressed directly; there's a heavy reliance on R&B and hip-hop -- but the album seems pleasingly scattershot as it bounces from guest to guest. Its messiness suits the digital era, when it's possible to swipe from style to style without a second thought, but Humanz isn't haphazard. Albarn deliberately sculpts each cut, giving plenty of space for Vince Staples, Grace Jones, Danny Brown, Anthony Hamilton, Mavis Staples, Pusha T, and longtime Gorillaz mainstay De La Soul to roam. That list of guest artists underscores how Humanz feels connected to soul in a way Plastic Beach didn't, but with its careening, carnivalesque hooks and skeletal 2-Tone spook -- not to mention how the whole thing is anchored on "Busted and Blue," a Damon solo track that could've slid onto Everyday Robots -- it's clearly an Albarn project. But even with its heavy, heavy R&B vibe and roiling politics, Humanz feels strangely uplifting, as if every musician who entered the studio found solace in the act of creation. That's why "We Got the Power" -- a collaboration with Savages singer Jehnny Beth and Damon's onetime rival Noel Gallagher -- is such a fitting closer: in dark times, it finds hope and inspiration in the power of the collective, which is a testament to what Albarn intends to do with Gorillaz. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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£13.99

Pop - Released April 11, 2014 | Parlophone UK

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£11.99

Pop - Released March 7, 2011 | Parlophone UK

The hook to The Fall is that it’s the first high-profile album to be recorded entirely on Apple’s iPad, Damon Albarn assembling these 15 song sketches as the Gorillaz tour rolled across America in the fall of 2010. In that sense, The Fall is not dissimilar from his limited-edition 2003 solo excursion Democrazy, which was also recorded in hotel rooms while on tour, yet The Fall has a higher profile -- it’s not a vinyl-only fan club release, it can be freely streamed from the Gorillaz official site and can be downloaded as part of a subscription package -- and thanks to the high-quality iPad apps it sounds polished, if not quite finished. Spectral hooks float in and out of the haze, sometimes the drum loops add definition, but for the most part The Fall is a rolling, moody aural travelogue, its song titles referencing specific cities (“Phoner to Arizona,” “Detroit,” “The Snake in Dallas,” “Aspen Forest,” “Seattle Yodel”), yet the music feels attached to no specific place -- it feels like a reflection of its time, namely, the autumn Gorillaz spent touring the U.S. It’s an aural journal, a sonic sketchbook that carries much of the same palette as Plastic Beach, yet it’s muted to the point that all the colors smear, the music taking on the same washed-out impressionistic qualities of The Good, the Bad & the Queen. Appealing as this may be, The Fall winds up a little ephemeral, its pleasures as fleeting as the scenery passing outside the windows of a tour bus. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine
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Alternative & Indie - Released April 28, 2017 | Parlophone UK

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£13.99

Pop - Released May 26, 2014 | Parlophone UK

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Pop - Released July 1, 2002 | Parlophone UK

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World - Released November 19, 2007 | Parlophone UK

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Gorillaz in the magazine
  • The Now Now, another triumph for Damon
    The Now Now, another triumph for Damon Damon is never far away. In 2017 while on tour with the Gorillaz, his imagination was already conceiving The Now Now on GarageBand software under the rooftops of American hotels.