When we’re blessed with the overflowing bounty of pop culture that we have at present, it’s impossible to be in on everything. For every 10 addicting shows, there are 20 great new albums. For every five new films, there are a couple dozen must-read books, and 15 can’t-miss magazine articles. To endeavor to stay caught up with it all is to fail.
So, sometimes, you have to give a simple, respectful shrug to the next wildly popular thing. Personally, in the last month, I’ve obsessed over things like The Leftovers and Kendrick Lamar’s Damn., but I know others who’ve never heard of either one. Hell, I’ve even got friends who don’t care about Game of Thrones—what are they, monsters?—, now just a few months away (!!!). On the other hand, I’m no exception to this gross carelessness: Recently, I’ve shrugged off the latest Fast and Furious, one of the biggest action movie franchises of the last 20 years, along with Gilmore Girls and The Bachelor. So it goes.
Similarly, for a while, I thought I’d shrug off an album I’d been hearing about for months, that had been billed as one of the biggest of the year, and whose PR announcements had been filling up my inbox without end. Yes, I was completely out on Humanz, the latest from Damon Albarn’s innovative ‘virtual band’ Gorillaz. That is, I thought I was out—until last Friday, when I decided to give the damn thing a listen.
had no idea until recently that so many people cared about gorillaz
— Evan Romano (@EvanRomano) April 6, 2017
why is gorillaz being stuffed down my throat so hard
— Evan Romano (@EvanRomano) April 21, 2017
Without getting into too much detail, last week was a clusterfuck—professionally and personally—and it also included the horrific New York City apartment move (albeit to a Brooklyn neighborhood I am stoked on). So by the time Friday rolled around, the bags underneath my eyes were visible. I needed a recharge, and in the worst way.
So during another long night of arranging and unpacking my new home, after finally getting my bed shoehorned into the corner of my room, and populating my closet and drawers with clothes—in a moment when things were starting to take some order again—I figured, hey, why not: I’ll give that new Gorillaz album a chance.
While I’d heard a little bit of it at the office, and it hadn’t been quite what I was expecting—and I’d never been big on the concept of a ‘virtual band’—I was a fan of Albarn’s other band, Blur, and the guest list for Humanz was impressive. Plus, a friend told me he considered the project ‘iconic’ in a text message. So when I realized I had no real rebuttal for that, I knew I had to get myself some knowledge, and listen. When the first track hit, with Vince Staples’s high-speed, high-energy, lyrical rap blaring on “Ascension”, all bets were off. Despite my initial (and untraceable) distaste for the whole thing, I was in.
I got all the way through Humanz, and to this minute I cannot stop listening. I realized my entire impression of the group, up until that point, came from the Apple-friendly 2005 hit “Feel Good Inc..” It’s a fine song that is nothing, really, like what this latest album brings to the table. Rather, Humanz reminds me of the second Disclosure album that never truly came*. This album makes absolute prime use of all of its guests, and Albarn is the conductor who brings together each piece to form his own perfect, anarchic, symphony.
*yes, I know Caracal came in 2015. But outside of a single or two, it just didn’t resonate in the way their 2013 debut did.
The moment where the album really wins me over comes with a two-track combo early on. “Submission” sees Kelala take the vocal lead, going to town with an irresistible and relentless beat, preceding a 99 MPH fastball of a verse from Danny Brown. Seriously—this Danny Brown verse is what he was put on earth to perform. It is invigorating in every sense of the word. I’m sitting in a coffee shop/bar hybrid right now writing this, and Danny Brown is making me want to go take six shots in a row. He makes everyone feel like that all the time. In the second song, “Charger,” Albarn goes back and forth in a vocal criss-cross lattice with Grace Jones, their voices in constant overlay, competing with the pounding synths of the background beat. These songs sound chaotic, and manic—and that’s by design. This is supposed to be an alternate reality. This isn’t an album, as the premise goes: it’s another world.
Even for the most resistant of consumers, sometimes a portal into another dimension, even an animated one, can be essential. Sometimes you need an album to plug in to, to immerse yourself in, to hope to connect to something, to access feelings that are intimate and pure. And sometimes, you find a piece of creative work, as is the case with Humanz, that takes you into that world—in this case, it just happens to be filled with a bunch of animated musician primates.
We’ve all got problems. We’ve all got stress. And we’re all torn in too many directions, all of the time. But with the album’s barely-over-an-hour running time, this is an excuse to escape from it all, and to commune instead with D.R.A.M., Danny Brown, Grace Jones, and a bunch of animated monkeys. Hey, you know what? Given the state of things today, nothing about that reality is any less crazy.