I don’t know what Damon Albarn’s been putting in his cereal lately, but England’s most prolific tune factory is firing on all cylinders this past year. While 2017’s ‘Humanz’ and its follow-up ‘The Now Now’ brought the long-dormant Gorillaz back into action, it was 2020’s ‘Song Machine, Season One - Strange Timez’ that saw Russel, 2-D, Murdoch, and Noodle tap back into the technicolor anarchy that made the first three albums so adored. Despite having a new solo LP dropping in November, as well as material for Song Machine dos already in the pipeline, Albarn has somehow found time to celebrate Notting Hill Carnival and West London - home of the band’s Kong Studios - on this bouncing three-track EP.
The titular first number features a superb guest spot from Jelani Blackman, which captures the carnival spirit, discussing the event's history, the haters, and the glory of Red Stripe. Over Blackman’s first-hand verses, you have classically dreamy Gorillaz backing, stoned beats, and twinkling synths weaving around 2-D’s nostalgic vocals. It’s the winner of the three, a bittersweet pining for a celebratory event once more paused due to the pandemic.
Following the theme is the dub infused ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ featuring AJ Tracey, three minutes of propulsive bass, and reverb-drenched guitar that sees Tracey reminisce about growing up in and surviving west London. The whole track bubbles with tension and release, eventually falling back into its reggae heart, the trademark Gorillaz melodica making an appearance to play the listener out. ‘Meanwhile’ may be the clear single, but in the bygone days of b-sides, this would have been the darker fan favourite.
Ending the trilogy on a dizzy high is ‘Déjà Vu,’ a song that can’t help but get you on your feet and in the street. With Jamaican-born, London-raised dancehall artist Alicaì Harley leading proceedings, this live recording from the NW10 postcode captures the freewheeling collaborative spirit of Gorillaz perfectly. Steel drums, alien sound effects, and backing singers launch this uplifting track into the stratosphere, sprinkling a little festival sunshine and solidarity on us as it does so.
While dropping a stand-alone treat would have been a welcome surprise, Gorillaz continue to honor their 20th year, their roots, and the connective power of music with trademark gusto. Crank the bass up and enjoy - you’ve earned it.
Words: Sam Walker-Smart
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