Gorillaz’ “Humanz” provides rhythmic dystopian monkey business

Albarn’s Gorillaz eschews the conventional, gives way to superlative hip-hop talents.



Kyle Kohner, Writer

After a seven-year hiatus, Damon Albarn and his virtual band Gorillaz have released the long-awaited follow-up to “Plastic Beach” with his 26-track-long “Humanz.” Albarn has withdrawn his charming vocal presence more than ever before. His subtle presence makes this album seem more like a compilation of various artists featuring Gorillaz rather than a compilation of Gorillaz tracks featuring various artists. The numerous contributing vocals on “Humanz” translates as slightly overbearing. Nevertheless, Gorillaz continue to string together memorable themes and overall conceptual work while giving way to numerous hip-hop talents.

Intergalactic soundscapes

“Humanz” grabs social commentary by the ears and wrestles with it vigorously. At times, the album’s narrative come off as half-baked, but it still manages to synthesize themes of political despair and apocalyptic imagery through well placed interludes in order to enhance the storyline. Albarn grasps these themes and leads them into intergalactic, glitchy, turbulent and brooding soundscapes. However, the drab atmosphere still holds out a glimmer of hope in the midst of the end times — hope catapulted by infectiously danceable production.

As daunting as Albarn’s lack of vocals seem, each track on “Humanz” bears Albarn’s quirky mixing and production. Albarn’s production provided many of his featured guests a platform to accentuate their respective hip-hop infused talents. “Ascension’s” ominous, driving sound plays well alongside Vince Staples’ nasally yet unassumingly convicting flow. “Momentz’s” outrageously frenzied aura rivals the energetic charisma of De La Soul.

Strobelight” furthers the album’s trend of cosmic dance numbers, yet it shines a light on Peven Everett’s soulful R&B vocals. However, not all of Albarn’s beats meld well with his guests. “Submission” maintains a bland feel, failing to capitalize on the exuberant yet demented energy of Detroit emcee Danny Brown, who sounds a little lifeless himself.  However, Albarn taking a seat back in “Humanz” allows for the talent of others to shine through, which in turn concedes these artists to interject their perspectives on fate, socio-economic calamity and political turmoil. With this success, Albarn has proven himself once again as a curator of hip-hop talent.

Spontaneously stimulating

Like every Gorillaz album released to date, “Humanz” will get blasted by adamant fans stuck in “Demon Dayz,” but they will inevitably come around in the end as they did in the past. While the backlash may not last forever, it is easy to see where it is coming from — because “Humanz” is definitely not for everyone.

Unlike the more streamlined cohesiveness of Gorillaz’ prior releases, “Humanz” comes across as a collection of spontaneous, ruptures moments of sonic earworms rather than a completely lucid album with an organic flow between each track. This may keep listeners at bay, but the album’s stimulating nature prevails as both one of its biggest draws and one of its biggest flaws. It works nicely as it delivers a vivid, dystopian ambience. There is no shortage of ideas here — not as many and not as coherent as their earlier releases — but enough to keep listeners engaged. Overall, “Humanz” eschews the “Gorillaz’” conventionality but triumphs as an eclectic body of work, one carried by its features’ tremendous contributions and Albarn’s usual superlative production.

This album required a couple of listens to really understand. Many who delve into the Gorillaz’ latest project may not enjoy it at first, but that pinpoints what makes Damon Albar so special. He brings disjoining sounds to light — sounds that launch the listener into a dark otherworldly realm where dancing is authorized.

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