Everyone’s favorite virtual band, Gorillaz, is currently embarking on one of their most ambitious projects to date. Song Machine, the audiovisual series that began this January, is the band’s new episodic vessel through which they’re releasing singles. The brainchild of British musician Damon Albarn and cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, Gorillaz is a band that has always prided itself off of being different. The creation and success of Song Machine is a testament to their unique take on the music industry.
With that said, as an avid fan of the band, I’ve been streaming all the new tracks religiously since “Momentary Bliss” dropped on January 30. Each Song Machine single features a different guest artist, giving every song a distinct sound. Since the series is on hiatus until September (as announced at the end of July 20’s “PAC-MAN” music video), I figured that now is the perfect time to rank all six Song Machine tracks.
“Désolé,” featuring Fatoumata Diawara, is the second released single of Song Machine. Featuring lyrics in both French and English, “Désolé” shines because of Diawara’s stellar vocals. Her feature is what makes the track. “Désolé” is completely dependent on the powerhouse riffs she sings. It, therefore, is an amazing track to listen to, but one that falls short when compared to the others.
With that said, “Désolé” is a wonderful showcase of the power Gorillaz has to combine the styles of artists from across the musical spectrum. Diawara takes what would have otherwise been a normal Gorillaz song and transforms it into a soulful pop hit perfect for poolside listening.
#5: Momentary Bliss
The first single of ten, “Momentary Bliss” is a song that grew on me through repeated listenings. Featuring slowthai and Slaves, the track is an energetic blend between punk rock, hip hop and electronic pop. “Momentary Bliss” is a catchy track. I can’t help but headbang every time it comes on. The blending of genres is what works best for “Momentary Bliss.” The track cycles from rapped verses to slow, dream pop-esque interludes and back again. In terms of repeatability, however, I find that I can only listen to this song every once in a while. “Momentary Bliss” is a fun song, but not one that’s meant to be played over and over again. It’s an enjoyable listen when you’re in the mood for it that wraps several music genres up in a clean 3-minutes and 41 seconds.
Released July 20, “PAC-MAN” is the newest Song Machine single. The 6th track is reminiscent of Gorillaz’s second album, Demon Days, in that it leans on the use of a main synthetic melody. The track’s featured guest, ScHoolboy Q, raps for the last minute and a half of the track, offering another dimension to “PAC-MAN” in addition to Gorillaz’s cartoon frontman, 2-D. “PAC-MAN” feels like an assertive track that has a lot to say. The repetitive synth that initiates the song continues through all 3-plus minutes of the song, allowing the listener to follow the melody through the choruses and verses that vary in vocal intensity. Overall, “PAC-MAN” is an impressive track that appeals to “classic” Gorillaz fans, while also fitting into the Song Machine family.
#3: How Far?
“How Far?” was a surprise release in the Song Machine series. Debuting on May 2, 2020, “How Far?” dropped with no prior announcement and faded into the Song Machine series with little fanfare. The track features British rapper Skepta and the late Tony Allen, the latter of whom the song was released to commemorate. “How Far?” is a track that almost solely features Skepta’s rapping, with only a short interlude featuring Allen. The track deals with themes of dealing with fame and notoriety in the public’s eye. “How Far?” becomes even more relevant when juxtaposed against the global pandemic occurring, during which the song was written. “How Far?” is a catchy rap track that can be played on repeat. It’s tasteful, interesting to listen to, and overall a welcomed tribute to Allen.
#2: Friday 13th
Released a month after “How Far?,” “Friday 13th” is the 5th Song Machine single. Compared to the track that precedes it, “Friday 13th” is a mellow hip hop song. Octavian, the track’s feature, takes control of the song. He raps for most of the track, conveying stories of drugs, drinking and the passage of time. The best part of the song, however, is its ending. In the song’s last minute, 2-D and Octavian come together in a slow, swelling musical moment. As 2-D sings and Octavian provides background vocals, a soft, repeating synth melody can be heard. This melody surrounds the two’s vocals and provides for an ending to the track that’s breathlessly beautiful.
Finally, “Aries,” the third released single, is an 80s-infused masterpiece. With a feature from Peter Hook, of former New Order fame, and British drummer and producer Georgia, “Aries” feels like a track straight off of Power Corruption and Lies. Hook’s bass line is what makes “Aries” so spectacular—2-D is able to lean into the retro-pop feel of the track to create a timeless mix of vintage and modern. The repeating chorus of “high tide/high tide/high tide/high tide” has a wistfulness to it. The appeal of “Aries” is its ability to capture all the nostalgia of an 80s pop ballad and combine it with lyrics relatable to the modern moment the world is in.
There are aspects of the track that feel specific to life in quarantine—a longing for something more and an inevitable pattern that’s fallen back into. “Aries” is a safety blanket song and one that I’ve listened to probably too many times. I can’t say if “Aries” will still come out on top once the next Song Machine track is released in September, but for now, it feels like I’m falling in again.
Follow your nearest Song Machine here. Stay tuned for the next single, dropping this September!
Featured Image via Gorillaz.