Culture, Music

Best albums of 2010

Gorillaz, Phase Three, press image 01I’ve been enthralled and captivated by so much music this year. Below are five of the newly released albums that have stayed will me this year. The one and only Gorillaz top my list. But, really, who else was going to, mmm?


All Played Out

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]

The title sounds like the codename for a Russian covert mission, but it’s actually Gorillaz’ latest single and a darn good pop song.

As I pointed out in previous posts, Gorillaz’ Phase Three singles have received very little radio play and none have even made it into the top 10 charts (I did have high hopes for this single, but unfortunately it only achieved #37).

‘Doncamatic’ is not part of the original tracklist for the band’s third LP. It was recorded earlier this autumn and features Manicunian Daley. To think that this young white northern with a wave of candyfloss hair has such as soulful voice is uncanny.
It’s genre-bending masterpiece from Damon and this newfound talent who could well be a prodigy of sorts.

In addition to download releases, ‘Doncamatic’ is the only single during this phase to be released physically as well, on CD and 7” picture disc with illustrates of the Korg Doncamatic instrument and a spindly-legged ant by Jamie Hewlett. Original B-sides remain elusive as ever though, with yet more remixes taking they’re place.

The promo video for the single is live action and follows Daley as he pilots a one-man submersible through the ocean depths to Plastic Beach. It’s one of the more serene videos Gorillaz’ have produced and suits the mood of the song well I think.

With ‘Doncamatic’ receiving more attention, the planned release of ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ and its promo video has been cancelled by EMI. This is a terrible shame as each video is part of a wider story this phase and I would really like to see the whole thing as the creators intended. We’ll just have to see where things go next year.
Culture, Music

Gorillaz @ London O2 Arena

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]

Did this really happen? Looking back I can’t quite believe it. It was the night I’d been waiting for all year: to see Gorillaz, and their many guest artists, live on tour.

Following my blissful first time seeing the band play live at the Camden Roundhouse back in April, I immediately jumped at the chance to see them again when they announce their first ever world tour. I snapped up tickets for one of two dates at the London O2 Arena. Originally scheduled for September, the concert itself was switched to November 16 to fit in with the rest of the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Contrary to having to rush down from Nottingham, it was reading week at my uni so I’d already come down for the week to find the tickets waiting for me (and would you believe it, I received ticket numbers 33 and 34). I had planned to take my brother to see the band this time, but literally and hour before we were due to leave he said he was feeling ill, so I had to ring my main man, Dee, to take his place.

Though I’ve driven past it on many occasions I’d never actually been inside The O2 (or Millennium Dome as it was originally called) until now. Making our way toward the gargantuan structure from North Greenwich tube station its 12 yellow support arms dazzled against the night sky, illuminating the oversized marquee like a spaceship that had landed right in the centre of the city. Inside the thing itself was a myriad of restaurants, cafés, bars and entertainment venues all packed together in one of the most inventive architectural feats I’ve ever seen.

During our exploring, Dee and I ran into two fellow Gorillaz fans, and their friends, that we’d met back at the Roundhouse in April. When the time came to make our way into the arena, we had to pass through no less than three ticket and security checks only to find that there was no cloakroom for standing audience members to dump their bags. On to the music…

Gorillaz in the Midst

Or not quite, as we had to wait nearly two hours before Gorillaz took the stage. Fortunately, support act Little Dragon (who appear on two tracks on Plastic Beach) energised the crowd with a number of hypnotic tunes. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano was rocking a long oriental two-piece dress and twisted and danced her way across the stage like she was summoning some mystic bird from beyond the sea.

Speaking of which, when the accompanying orchestra played the band in during the island intro the whole place erupted with excitement. I’d brought my compact camera along to get a few shots, but I decided early that I wanted to enjoy this experience to the full and not spend half of it viewing the magic from behind a digital display – the shots you see here are the best of the small amount I took.

For the second time this year, it was a buzz to feel the presence of Damon Albarn and the rest of the musicians standing some five metres above me on stage. The band had played at The O2 just two days ago, but had to fly to Amsterdam the day after. Honestly, it felt so rewarding to hear Damon expressing his relief and gratitude that his home fans had come to show their support. It was by no means a sell-out gig. Why more people don’t feel the magic I feel from this band, and its many associates, is something I will never know.

That night I was treated to a rapturous harmony of music from all corners of the globe, from the Lebanese National Orchestra for Arabic Music to De La Soul. Music from all three of the band’s studio albums – Gorillaz, Demon Days and Plastic Beach – was played, including some favourites I witnessed live for the first time, ‘19-2000’, ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ and ‘Demon Days’.

And as if seeing the core band – Paul Simonon, Cass Brown, Mike Smith and the rest – wasn’t enough, the sheer number of guest artists left me delirious with happiness: Bootie Brown, De La Soul, Neneh Cherry, Roses Gabor (who kindly signed my tour book after the gig), Kano, Bashy, Yukimi Nagano, Hypnotic Brass and the legendary Bobby Womack. What’s more a special appearance by none other than MF Doom during ‘Clint Eastwood’ was a real shock. They should have brought him on to do ‘November Has Come’ live. Daley, too, was in the house to perform newfound pop gem ‘Doncamatic’, and I have to say that boy has some pipes.

Veikko’s Blur Page has a rundown of the setlist, as well as all the other live dates from the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Seeing Gorillaz and their guest crew live, for the second time this year, was a tremendous experience that will stay with me long after these years are behind me. EMI could help though by putting out a tour DVD so I can relive the memories of this gig in crisp AV quality.

Melancholy Cruise

The only thing to be melancholy about is the fact that record companies are releasing music as download-only singles. Gorillaz second true single (‘Superfast Jellyfish’ has been postponed) to promote Plastic Beach, ‘On Melancholy Hill’, was released on July 25. While Phase Three is turning out to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of B-sides and physical discs to add to my collection, Gorillaz latest multimedia foray has made indulging in their world all the easier. There’s been no shortage of website content, YouTube videos and they’ve even released a game for the web/iPhone/iPad (created by Matmi using Unity and Flash).

It’s back to Jamie Hewlett’s classic 2D characters for the ‘On Melancholy Hill’ promo video. Following the spectacular CG versions of the band in the ‘Stylo’ video that had me doing a double take, I hoped that Passion Pictures (the studio behind the digital tech for Gorillaz’ videos) would be doing the same for all of their coming promos. Mixing 2D drawings, 3D models and CG animation in one pot, this video has the distinct feel that it was a bit too ambitious and less costly methods had to be employed to finish it in time. Still, it’s the first reappearance of the real Noodle after ‘El Mañana’, so here’s to that. Cyborg Noodle is too creepy.

Something that’s neither creepy nor disappointing, in fact quite the opposite, is the band’s smuggler’s run of live dates. The Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour begins in North America this October. I’ve forked out once again to see them on the European leg of their tour, this time at the London O2 Arena. The date was originally set for September 15, but it was rescheduled to November 16 to coincide with the other tour dates. Lots to looked forward then as Gorillaz’ third phase continues.


Jellyfish in a Microwavable Bottle

It’s now been two months since the long-awaited release of Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach album. I’ve been playing it through track-by-track almost every day without fail. Since my premier listen, many of the tracks have begun to impart the layers of depth and diversity I was so hopeful of. ‘Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach’, featuring Snoop Dogg and Hypnotic Brass, is one such example of a track that pricked my ears up when I first heard it, but has now moved into the realm of instant-body-shaker. The moment the trippy double-double starts in the second half, I can’t help but bop along to it like a hyperactive woodpecker.

I went to see Gorillaz live at the Camden Roundhouse less than two weeks ago, and that, too, was a gravity-defying night of elation.

Today ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ was the second single from the album to be released for digital download. This track became one of my immediate favourites. De La Soul provide the comedic rap (the lyrics ‘we be the colours of the mad and the wicked, we be bad when we brick it’ are now totally ingrained in my musical cortex) and the Fallout 3-like, retro opener is actually sampled from an advert for Swanson’s microwavable frozen breakfast sandwiches. It’s great to see the track out for single release. I will, of course, be supporting it, but I do wish the band would release the official remixes and some new B-sides along with it. Perhaps I’ll talk more about the Phase Three B-sides and remixes in a future post. In the meantime, I think you’ve got time for a hot, home-cooked breakfast…


Welcome to the Plastic Beach

At long last, I have finally got my chilly mitts on Gorillaz’ latest musical extravaganza, Plastic Beach.

After making it through another month of restless work and managing to edit and upload a week’s worth of content to Platform Online (not to mention the long awaited Final Fantasy XIII review for you RPG fans out there), I broke through to a glorious, sunny Monday morning. Rising from my desk, I got ready and headed straight to HMV in Victoria Centre as early as I could to collect my divine goods.

As I write this I have just finished listening to the entire album, start to finish. I’m not going to pass comment or start comparing it to the band’s past works, because, as I mentioned some months back, I don’t want to impose self-styled expectations on it. However, from my first listen it is clear that Plastic Beach is more experimental than anything they’ve tried before, heavy with electro, knotted lyrics and a countless number of obscure sounds and instruments.

Right now, it is impossible for me to even anticipate what, where, when or how this new slice of audible art will connect with me in the days, months and years to come. Honestly, I’m just ecstatic that Gorillaz have added one more studio album to their discography that again has something meaningful to show listeners about the world.

In preparation for this day, I’ve have been topping up with the album’s lead single, ‘Stylo’ and it’s recent promo video, checking out the new beachsite and I’ve already paid a fee to join the band’s newly formed G-Club (in hope that I’ll be able to folk out yet more cash for some early gig tickets). Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough I’ve bought both the standard and ‘Experience’ editions of the new album. Yeah, I know, when it comes to Gorillaz I’m crazy!

Over the next few weeks I’m sure I’ll be writing plenty more on Gorillaz and Plastic Beach, so I hope you’ll enjoy my musings. And please do share your own thoughts on the band and their new album. For now, though, welcome back Gorillaz. And I hope you too will join me on Plastic Beach.



The new music revolution has arrived!

OK, maybe that’s a bit premature, but today the very first single from Gorillaz’ third album, Plastic Beach, goes on sale.

‘Stylo’ is the name and it marks Gorillaz return the music scene following their 2005 album, Demon Days. The track was played in demo form during Damon Albarn’s Radio 1 takeover in January 2009. There are guest appearances on the track by Bobby Womack and Mos Def, something I can’t wait to hear for myself. That’s what I love about Damon Albarn’s music – it is unpredictable.

This single is also download only – a big change from the physical, and even 7”, releases of the band’s previous commercial singles. Disappointing, as I was really hoping on getting hold of a physical copy with Jamie Hewlett’s evocative artwork. Just check that cool muscle car, Noodle’s exigent pose and Che Guevara-like attire, it’s like something out of a Vogue photo shoot.

Last week got a makeover after four years of hiatus. There was also controversy on the very same day when ‘Stylo’ leaked across the internet to the delight of thousands of egger fans (not including myself). Fortunately, the band was quick to respond and posted the song on YouTube as well as on their own website so that fans could listen to the track early.

Not wishing to have my own enjoyment of it spoilt by the opinions and critique of fans and ‘music experts’, I’ve kept myself clear of the streams… until now that is. Today I’m downloading ‘Stylo’ to listen and enjoy. I’m definitely going to do my best to get hold of a copy of the promo CD, too, because I need that single art in my collection.

I’m hoping not to overdo it, but I’ll certainly be talking more about Plastic Beach in the lead up to, and after, its release on 8 March 2010.


Smell the Plastic

In a recent Guardian interview with Damon Albarn, I was ecstatic to learn some tangible information about Gorillaz’ third album.

The biggest news from this was learning that the album is indeed to be called Plastic Beach – referring to package waste, nature and the world’s relationship with such substances. I was also surprised to hear that artists, Snoop Dog, Lou Reed, Mos Def, Barry Gibb and Bobby Womack could all be appearing on the album in some fashion.

This is close to the best piece of music news I’ve heard all year. I’m not a follower of popular music, but Gorillaz changed my perspective on the ideals and issues that mainstream musicians explore in their art. I’m more pumped then I’ve ever been for an album since I discovered what a B-side actually is.