Gorillaz’ “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez”: What an Album!

by Jared Moser

The British virtual band, and mind-child of musician Damon Albarn, Gorillaz releases “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Timez” on October 17th. It’s their ninth studio album, and first full length LP since 2018’s “The Now Now.” After the release of several singles hinting at an album this summer, it was beginning to look like a full length album wasn’t part of the plan for Gorillaz. Not only did Gorillaz come through, but they brought us a set of songs that could be the best album of the year.

Similar to other projects, Gorillaz brought in many features to make up the songs on this LP, including Robert Smith, Beck, ScHoolboy Q, Elton John, Peter Hook, and so many more. Albarn’s ability to mix and match these artists on any given song is what gives this album such great appeal. A great example is “The Pink Phantom (feat. Elton John and 6LACK).” The combination of Elton John’s beautiful piano-playing and singing shouldn’t blend well with the heavily auto-tuned 6LACK, but somehow it does, and really well. This is just one of many examples that shows this album is like nothing I’ve ever heard before, features-wise.

Unlike other projects, “Song Machine” seems to avoid the typical album characteristics of sounding conceptually fluid, like Gorillaz’ 2010 album, “Plastic Beach.” The album is definitely written to be much more compartmentalized and segmented. Albarn brought this up in an interview with YouTube music critic Anthony Fantano: “That’s what I kind of wanted to escape from, I wanted to have a vehicle where I could just go wherever I wanted, so the idea of a season, and episodes kind of made sense.”  

As a huge Gorillaz fan, this album is the best early Christmas present I’ve ever received. From the stellar line up of songs, the astonishing feature list, and the classic Gorlliaz flare, this album is just amazing. Especially following the underwhelming 2017 album “Humanz,” and “The Now Now,” neither of which did much for me.  

I usually bring up stand out songs when I do album reviews, but truthfully, I’d have to pick every song. Every single track is great in its own way, not one bringing down the project. From the starter “Stange Timez (feat. Robert Smith),” with its ominous chords and outer-space like vocals, to the upbeat funky “Pac-Man (feat. ScHoolboy Q),” with a catchy chorus and contrasting rap verse at the end. Peter Hook brings his classic crunchy bass line to the post-apocalyptic jam “Aries,” and the gorgeous vocals brought by Fatoumata Diawara to the silky, horn-filled love piece “Désolé.”  

“Song Machine” doesn’t just have single-worthy songs all the way through. The album also brings hidden gems like the slow hip-hop track “Dead Butterflies (feat. Kano and Roxani Arais),” and the weird, but somehow extremely catchy, “Friday 13th (feat. Octavian).” The only drawback this record has is one song, “Chalk Tablet Towers (feat. St. Vincent).” It isn’t my absolute favorite, but still has many redeeming qualities.

To conceptually bring the whole experience full circle, “Song Machine” closes out with the up-beat, hopeful, yet lyrically depressing “Momentary Bliss (feat. Slowthai and Slaves).” It has lyrics and a feel that perfectly encapsulate this year as a whole. It was also the first single released by Gorillaz, all the way back in January. This album doesn’t miss. Every track is worth going back to, and as of now, it’s the best album of the year. I’m happily giving this album a 9/10 rating, to drive home how near-perfect the record really is.