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New Music: Damon Albarn – Everyday Robots

Everyday-Robots_post

Damon AlbarnEveryday Robots //

3-BamsTop Tracks:
“Everyday Robots”
“Lonely Press Play”
“Mr. Tembo”

Album Highlights: It’s been quite some time since music fans have had a reason to pay attention to Blur or Gorillaz, but that doesn’t mean Damon Albarn has fallen off the face of the earth. In fact, over the last two years, the English singer-songwriter has collaborated with some big names: Flea and Tony Allen for starters (on 2012’s Rocket Juice & the Moon), and later the legendary Brian Eno, Yeah Yeah Yeahs guitarist Nick Zinner, members of Metronomy and Django Django, as well as a host of Malian musicians for his Africa Express project — the result being 2013’s Maison Des Jeunes.

But Everyday Robots marks Albarn’s first official solo album, following a venture into the film and opera worlds for a short time. On the 12-track LP, he channels a slight folk-soul sound that may be best characterized by the record’s title track and first single, a deliberate social commentary on technology’s adverse effect on modern-day humanity. “We are everyday robots on our phones,” Albarn croons over hauntingly beautiful strings to open the song, setting the mood for a relatively sleepy album highlighted by other such dreary numbers as “Lonely Press Play” and “The Selfish Giant,” the latter featuring Bat for Lashes’ Natasha Khan on background vocals.

If there’s one outlier on Everyday Robots though, it’s the playful “Mr. Tembo,” which recounts the story of a baby elephant Albarn met in Tanzania to the tune of a joyful, ukulele-based melody. While Albarn’s experiences traveling the world serve as lyrical fodder for a large chunk of the record, he also makes a point of continuing his working relationship with Eno, joining forces with the fellow Brit on a couple of cuts, including the extensive, yet soothing, “You and Me” in which he ponders his own existence.

Album Lowlight: As seldom as Albarn’s songwriting chops require questioning, there are moments on Everyday Robots when not everything falls perfectly into place. “Hostiles” continues where “Everyday Robots” leaves off, but it doesn’t offer anything different from what we hear just minutes prior. In the meantime, “Hollow Ponds” issues a similar sentiment, leaving the listener longing for something more. And with tracks like “Parakeet” and “Seven High” serving more as filler than substance, it’s not totally surprising that Albarn’s solo debut feels short despite spanning a total of almost 47 minutes.

Takeaway: It’s clear from listening to Everyday Robots that Albarn has a lot on his mind and he’s spent a lot of time thinking about the bigger picture. That said, this isn’t an album that you’ll want to throw on before a night out on the town. These are contemplative offerings that we get from Albarn — a man trying to come to grips with the current state of society, for better or worse. As we quickly come to find out, it’s not all roses and sunshine for the 46-year-old Londoner, but this latest material shows just how insightful he still can be.

~Josh Herwitt


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