Nearly six years since their last album, Gorillaz return with four singles that signal a step toward a dancier, more mainstream influence. The “band” — actually one real player, Damon Albarn, and four virtual members — continue their trend of integrating progressive genre trends with emerging talents.
In the first and arguably best single, “Ascension,” the band recruits conscious rapper Vince Staples to lend a political tinge to the club banger. The track is produced by the typical Gorillaz duo — Remi Kabaka and Damon Albarn — but gains its dancefloor appeal from Anthony “The Twilite Tone” Khan. With a track record of songs like Kanye West’s “Mercy” and “Don’t Like.1,” Khan is likely responsible for elevating the track to its current commercial appeal. Staples offers his uniquely danceable-yet-meaningful lyricism (see “Norf Norf”), having people grooving while he talks about how “This the land of the free / Where you can get a Glock and a gram for the cheap.” The track not only features production curated for hip hop chart success, but at two minutes and 35 seconds, it’s the perfect length to crossover to mainstream radio.
In “Saturn Barz,” the band continues to embrace recent trends, enlisting dancehall icon (and frequent Drake
ghostwriter collaborator) Popcaan. The track is quintessentially Gorillaz — laced with dark beats, Popcaan alternates verses with Damon’s classic heavily distorted vocals. What makes the song stand-out is the unexpected nature of Popcaan’s feature: The beat is far removed from the steel drum percussion of Popcaan’s personal discography, creating an unlikely, yet successful, pairing. The juxtaposition of Popcaan’s usually reggae-influenced lyricism with the Gorillaz’s deep underground hip-hop beats create a pairing that’s worth a listen.
In contrast to “Saturn Barz,” the third single “Andromeda” is heavily dance-influenced. With rapper D.R.A.M. contributing, the track is the house-iest Gorillaz song yet; slowly layering beat over beat, the single does groovy dance music so well that it could have Chromeo on production. The disparity between “Saturn Barz” and “Andromeda” is great, leaving listeners interested to see how Albarn ties the project together.
The last single, “We Got the Power,” featuring Jehnny Beth of Savages, is hardly listenable. Perhaps the single would be better received if not on a Gorillaz album, but it’s overly empowering lyrics and lackluster beat are nauseating, making you almost believe it’s a farce of a pop song (which it could very well be). When considered in context of a full album, the song may make more sense … hopefully. Stay tuned for the full album release on April 28th to find out.