TRACK-BY-TRACK: Gorillaz' 'Humanz' Scares Us In The Best Way
It's been six whole years since lauded virtual band Gorillaz have offered us anything new, and now Humanz is upon us.
With more collaborators than you can fathom, we got so excited about Damon Albarn and co's latest that we reviewed the futuristic space odyssey, track by track, in real time.
Humanz is due out for release on 28 April.
1. Intro: I Switched My Robot Off
“I switched my robot off and I know more, but retain less, retain less, ‘tain less, ‘tain less, less, less, less, less, less...” Hey, that’s our very own Mendo (aka Ben Mendelsohn), isn’t it? His voice fades into the distance and we hear what sounds like a spaceship lifting off before hurtling into space.
2. Ascension ft Vince Staples
You should've already heard this song a gazillion times, because it's one of the four tracks Gorillaz shared at the end of March and it's a pogoing belter! Sirens underscore Vince Staples' insistent rapping: “The sky’s falling baby drop that ass ‘fore it crash (higher).” There's plenty of those trademark Gorillaz bleeps as well as what sounds like fat water drop samples. Can someone please explain what the following lyrics mean: "She wet like Barbra Streisand"? They're kinda freakin' us out. Then it turns topical: "Police everywhere it’s like a nigga killed a white man.” And one of the album's featured artists Grace Jones is name checked. As soon as Damon Albarn's voice enters, unexpectedly, we’re immediately reminded how different his vocals sound when he's 'in character' as 2D; fractured, somehow. We dig.
3. Strobelite ft Peven Everett
Boasting a swaggering pace, Strobelite's cartoonish keys echo gospel-inspired vocal lines. Peven Everett’s voice is super-smooth and syrupy. This deals a hands-in-the-air, euphoric, get-thee-to-the-dancefloor-pronto vibe. It's as if synths are taking over the studio before a clapping breakdown chimes get-down o'clock.
4. Saturnz Barz ft Popcaan
“Hahaha,” Jamaican DJ Popcaan cackles and we’re not quite sure what the punch at Gorillaz HQ was spiked with, but we definitely want in. This is another of Humanz' sneak-preview songs (released via an animated video) with how-low-can-you-go bass frequencies that make us fear the brown note's lurking just around the corner. “All my life!” Popcaan’s delivery channels Vocoder — it’s fruity and we're reminded of Mattafix’s Big City Life (if it was recorded in a dingy dungeon disco). Enter Albarn/2D’s vocal part with characteristic wistful quality. This is truly groundbreaking stuff. Dark, sinister and addictive.
5. Momentz ft De La Soul
What sounds like an experiment on a kid’s keyboard makes way for some rapping and then a robotic beat charges in. Gorillaz and De La Soul have always had a special connection (hello, Feel Good Inc and Superfast Jellyfish), but Momentz is symbiotically off its head! The arrangement drops out to highlight trippy keys that make us feel as if we’re falling down a drain and then spoken word: "I’m talkin’ about the cool clown clan." Huh? Are we comprehending correctly? Top up the trip-laced punch! Is that Mendo again? "Time to just step out for a fresh of breath air [sic] after that” — yep, that's a fair dinkum Aussie accent. Whatever they’re on, we want some. And this song is definitely over waaaaaay too soon.
6. Interlude: The Non-conformist Oath
We’re not giving this one away, but every class/workroom needs to recite this en masse before they launch into each day.
7. Submission ft Danny Brown & Kelela
Oh, wow! Kelela’s vocals are so crystalline that we find ourselves with eyes closed, swaying head from side to side in blissful admiration - she doesn’t sound dissimilar to Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano, come to think of it. Then Danny Brown barnstorms into the track in characteristic high-pitched, cracked-out fashion. The beats and bleeps are understated with some choral touches. Submission is a sonic montage where the separate parts probably shouldn’t work — in theory — but most certainly do.
8. Charger ft Grace Jones
Since Humanz' tracklisting leaked, we’ve been frothing for this collab and as soon as the song ram-raids our ears with Grace Jones announcing, “I am the GHOST!" then cackling over what sounds like sampled, distorted sirens, we can’t help but imagine Jones and Albarn sharing a studio — nuts, huh!? The vulnerability of Albarn/2D’s vocal ensures he's Jones's cowering prey and we’re absolutely spellbound while being simultaneously terrified — kinda like the moment when you realise you probably shouldn’t have dropped a second pinger after mistakenly thinking the first one wasn’t working, ‘cause now they’re both charging full-steam into your bloodstream in tandem.
9. Interlude: Elevator Going Up
Literally Mendo saying, “Elevator. Going up!” as if he’s watching the illuminated directional indicator.
10. Andromeda ft DRAM
Also premiered back in March, this song calls to mind Doncamatic, the Gorillaz single featuring British singer Daley that they released in 2010 via digital download, and we wonder whether Andromeda's rhythm was constructed using the very same Donca Matic DA-20 after which the aforementioned track was named. Albarn/2D gently sings, “Take it in your heart now, lover,” as sonic shooting stars massage our eardrums. Can’t wait to boogie up a storm to this one! It’s swoonworthy and sultry with Albarn/2D cooing as if from a distance.
11. Busted And Blue
Are we suddenly camping in the wilderness, admiring strange bird noises from the safety of our tent at dawn? Busted And Blue is a rare track on Humanz since it contains no featured artists. Laid bare, Albarn/2D turns the melancholy switch down even further. Sporadic finger snaps reverberate. There’s something threatening about distant, vibrating bass rumbles. "I’m a satellite/And I can’t get back without you!” Then what sounds like a whistle pop heralds in more strange bird noises to close out the track.
12. Interlude: Talk Radio
This bit’s creepy; as if we overhear a secret conversation that can now never be unheard ("I don’t have to take this any further if you don’t want me to").
13. Carnival ft Anthony Hamilton
Anthony Hamilton evokes Grace Jones at times during this song. The demented sounds and popping bass make us feel as if we've been locked inside a Ghost Train overnight after the carnival is over. And then that's it! After just 2.15 minutes.
14. Let Me Out ft Mavis Staples & Pusha T
A keys part could soundtrack a horror movie, there’s relentless car horns and not only Mavis Staples & Pusha T but also Albarn/2D on this one. Those repeated “Let me out” whispers — almost part of the beat — are downright terrifying. This song is so multilayered that different nuances are bound to jump out with every listen and, “You best be ready for it”.
15. Interlude: Penthouse
You're approaching the club as music intensifies before the bouncer slowly opens the door. “Something was gonna happen tonight,” Mendo announces before a laugh that's pure evil.
16. Sex Murder Party ft Jamie Principle & Zebra Katz
Okay, so who came up with the Sex Murder Party concept and do we need to be concerned about their psychological makeup? This song isn't as violent as the title suggests, however. Skitterish beats underscore deep chants with Zebra Katz channelling Rollo from Faithless. Check out these lyrics: “In the bathroom/Blow everywhere/Now you’re so high/Kiss all the guys/Making me jealous/And wonder why” — okay, now we’re freaking out (just a little).
17. She’s My Collar ft Kali Uchis
This one, though! The melody conjures a kitten randomly prancing on the keys. The beat swaggers and Albarn/2D’s lackadaisical delivery drives us wild ("I don’t take her number/Just don’t think I’ll call her”). There’s something about this song that calls to mind I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango) by Grace Jones. Then in comes Kali Uchis to tell her side of the story and we can’t even. Albarn/2D: “She’s the one I’m runnin’ with.” Panting. And we’re actually in a puddle on the floor. Please send help.
18. Interlude: The Elephant
“In the elephant’s trunk. Confetti” – we really hope Gorillaz make this happen somehow at their Demon Dayz festival in Maidenhead, UK, ‘cause we wanna see that (but not using a real elephant, obviously).
19. Hallelujah Money ft Benjamin Clementine
We were floored by this song when it was released at the beginning of the year, to coincide with Trump’s inauguration, as the first taste from Humanz. And, as it happens, it’s nothing like anything else on the album. It's funereal and forecasts Trump-specific doom: "Scarecrows from the Far East" and "building walls". Albarn/2D's bridges are pleas for humanity. That final “Hallelujah Money!” holler is just plain weird, though, and probably the only thing we don’t like about this entire album. The SpongeBob SquarePants outro's cool, though.
20. We Got The Power ft Jehnny Beth
The album closer has already been on high rotation since it was unveiled back in March. This song's the antithesis of Hallelujah Money and presents love as the answer: "We got the power to be loving each other no mat-ter what hap-pens." Savages' Jehnny Beth is suitably incendiary. What an anthem! And the message is made all the more poignant thanks to Noel Gallagher (of Blur’s rival Britpop band Oasis) taking the mic for BVs. Hatchets officially buried. And who hasn't smiled while looking at a photo of Albarn and Gallagher clearly loving each other's guts?
But, wait. There's five additional tracks on the deluxe edition!
The Apprentice ft Rag'n'Bone Man, Zebra Katz & RAY BLK
Halfway To The Halfway House ft Peven Everett
Out Of Body ft Kilo Kish, Zebra Katz & Imani Vonsha