Sometimes, you have to go backward in order to go forward. This seems to have been the major takeaway for musician Damon Albarn and artist Jamie Hewlett, the creative duo behind the British virtual band Gorillaz. The band’s 2017 album Humanz, its first since 2010’s The Fall, signaled the end of a seven-year hiatus, and the unveiling of a new Gorillaz identity, including an updated art style and sound. Experimentation has long been the name of the game for Gorillaz. Unfortunately, however, not all experiments can be successful: bloated with enough featured artists to fill a small stadium, the Gorillaz signature sound was lost in the mix, and Humanz felt more like a mixtape than an album.
However, a failed experiment can be a success so long as we learn something from it. In 2018, the band began to release singles and promotional material for an upcoming album, The Now Now, and it seems as if Albarn and Hewlett have done just that: The band’s latest single, “Fire Flies,” is the best they’ve sounded in years. With this track, Albarn seems to have found a way to fuse the past with the future, returning to his signature croon circa “On Melancholy Hill” and incorporating the dynamic, layered soundscapes he began to uncover in Humanz tracks “Andromeda” and “Busted and Blue.”
On “Fire Flies,” Albarn anchors heavy, hypnotic synth lines over 808 drums — a fitting choice for a self professed “rock band” that has so frequently flirted with R&B and hip hop — and creates a dense, swirling instrumental track that practically washes over the listener. The melancholic and melodramatic instrumentals serve as a perfect compliment to Albarn’s lyrics, which liken salvaging a dissipating relationship to chasing fireflies through the night. The prevalence of Albarn’s creative energy on The Now Now’s teaser singles, both as a vocalist and an arranger, seem to indicate a promising future for a band that some had worried was losing its identity.