Gorillaz’s ‘Song Machine’ is the perfect summer playlist—in the middle of October


Melissa Joseph

Gorillaz’s new album, “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez” released Oct. 23.

What started out as a low-commitment string of singles gradually evolved into a full-fledged album of groovy electropop on Gorillaz’s new album, “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez.”

The “virtual band” created by Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett has specialized in collaborating with a wide range of artists across the music world since their 2001 debut, and it seems in 2020 they are just as open to the idea. “Song Machine” was originally intended to consist of dropping a new single every few weeks or so, with each new track including a new feature. But over the course of the summer when they were releasing, the duo gained so much positive attention that they decided to turn them into an album, with the “Season One” possibly foreshadowing future projects.

Since the initial concept was all about singles, these songs are for all intents and purposes disconnected from one another. The only real running theme is the high quality of each song.

The album opens with “Strange Timez,” which features the wailing vocals of The Cure’s Robert Smith over a driving synth as Albarn’s alter-ego, 2-D accompanies with his iconic lethargic performance. From here, this formula is followed through on every song. The prominence of the feature varies in a couple exceptions: Indie rock artist St. Vincent barely has a part on “Chalk Tablet Tower,” offering accompanying vocals on the chorus alongside 2-D, meanwhile English rapper Octavian may as well have his own song on the album with “Friday 13th.”

Sure to catch plenty of attention is “The Pink Phantom” featuring Atlanta’s alternative R&B artist 6LACK and rock superstar Elton John. Gorillaz is known for oddball collaborations, but they’re also known for making them work. The duo trade off back and forth with much more chemistry than they should. It’s an epic break-up song revolving around memories had in Elton John’s iconic Rolls Royce Phantom V.

Considering many of these singles were released over the summer, the vibe isn’t exactly fitting for the weather these days. But the shimmering and bright guitars, pulsing synths, and funky drums are welcome any time of the year.

It is hard to say that there is any real low point on “Song Machine,” more just exceptional high points. “The Lost Chord” has one of the grooviest bass lines Gorillaz has ever produced, and its dreamy production feels like driving down a dark freeway with no destination. My only wish is that it could go on longer.

“Pac-Man” features Top Dawg’s own ScHoolboy Q, and despite his grittier discography, his verses over Albarn’s cartoony beat are woven in perfectly as he solidifies himself in the Gorillaz canon of iconic hip-hop features.

There is no major takeaway on “Song Machine.” No overarching themes, no grand message. While Gorillaz certainly has the artistic knowhow to produce something bigger, it is a nice change of pace for them to simply put out fun music. This album is a rare instance where you could likely play it on shuffle with no compromise to it’s artistic integrity. So put it on and enjoy it, because with this installment in the Gorillaz discography, that’s all you can really ask from it.

Recommended listening setting: Poolside. Alternatively, wrapped up in a blanket in the middle of autumn, imagining you are poolside.

Score: 8/10

Thomas Stremfel can be reached at [email protected] or @tomstremfel on Twitter.