Headphones: Gorillaz Find Optimistic New Direction On The Now Now

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The sixth studio album from the British alternative, rock pop, hip-hop, and virtual group Gorillaz, is finally here. The Now Now is the result of a year-long process that began on the group’s tour back in 2017. Building off the success of last year’s Humanz album, The Now Now, is a step in an optimistic direction for the Gorillaz.

Beginning in late May, the group began releasing singles for the album starting with “Humility” and “Lake Zurich”. With these two singles, Gorillaz made it clear that they would be taking their music in an upbeat direction through catchy instrumentals defined by funky base lines. The lighter nature given off through the funky beat is matched in the music video for “Humility”. The dance theme of “Humility” is mostly consistent with the album. The track is extremely synth heavy, another component not only consistent on The Now Now, but across all of Gorillaz’ music. 

“Lake Zurich” is extremely similar to “Humility” in the sounds and upbeat feeling it produces. It blends together sounds of modern electronic funk with an 80's groove. The track was originally teased in an early advertisement the group released to promote the upcoming album. “Lake Zurich” doesn’t feature any of Albarn’s signature vocals, and instead focuses on the group’s expert production. With an emphasis on electronic synths, the track also features bubbly percussion that creates the main baseline of the song. Gorillaz is typically known for their use of subtle bass and echoed vocals which has helped them create an ominous tone to their music. “Lake Zurich” continues the trend of positive beats that strays away from the usual dark tones of the groups music. 

After the release of the group’s previous album, Humanz, there was plenty of backlash towards the overuse of features. Of the 26 tracks on the album, only six of them were solo group work. On The Now Now, only two of the eleven tracks contain features, with only one of those two containing additional vocals. Legendary Jazz guitarist George Benson adds his mellow guitar chords on “Humility” along with Snoop Dogg and Jamie Principle adding vocals on the track “Hollywood”. 

“Hollywood” is another synth heavy dance track that features significantly more bass lines than any other track on the album. This is the third time the group has collaborated with West Coast rap legend Snoop Dogg. This combination has proved to be a strong one as the groups upbeat tracks and simplistic vocals set up Snoop’s verses perfectly. Snoop flows elegantly along the beat as the track speaks on the temptation and beauty of Hollywood. 

There is an intriguing contradiction on The Now Now that has not been seen in the previous work of Gorillaz. With high tempo and optimistic pop beats consistent across the album, Albarn’s gloomy and sullen vocals create a fascinating juxtaposition that’s crazy enough to work. In much of his previous work, Albarn’s vocals meshed and mirrored the instrumental tones of the group’s tracks. As they begin to release increasingly upbeat tracks, Albarn’s vocals no longer mesh. However, through these funky and groovy beats Albarn’s dark vocals shine through in a unique way that very few can produce. 

Although the album is an overall success, it is interesting to see Gorillaz produce this type of music. More well known for those sullen tracks that incorporated electric funk, the group has fallen into simplistic pop beats makeable by many. Gorillaz is one of the most unique musical groups of our time and the obsession with electronic pop on this album is rather strange. The group still produces extremely distinctive tracks but creates more of an upbeat feel than usual. This new direction of the group’s tracks still produces a sense of individuality, but displays beats created for mass audiences. 

The group’s new found use of upbeat pop tracks has opened up the resurgence of their animated characters, who we first see again in the “Humility” music video. Famous characters like 2-D, Russel, Noodle appear alongside the gang’s newest member. Ace, a villain taken from the Powerpuff Girls TV series, is filling in for former bassist, current convict Murdoc Niccals. It is unclear how long he is to be a member of the Gorillaz, but for now has made his first appearance alongside the traditional characters in the “Humility” video. 

Although the album as a whole is upbeat and optimistic in its production, the underlying message is rather gloomy and desolate. The theme of isolation is one that has been popular in much of Albarn’s music, including his solo work. In the very first track on the album (“Humility”), we hear Albarn say, “Calling the world from isolation/’Cause right now, that’s the ball where we be chained”. Throughout the album we hear this concept of inevitable isolation repeated and emphasized. This message, however, is produced through contradictory beats that give off positive and hopeful feelings. The heavy use of electronic synths on all the tracks, with the exception of tracks like “Idaho” and “One percent”, help make this album light spirited. Gorillaz have always made music with distinct and powerful messages and they have reignited this trend on The Now Now emphasizing the isolation of our world. 

With their latest album’s release so recent, it is unclear whether or not the group will continue to churn out music this fast. While it can be assumed that they will likely continue to produce records, it is most unclear as to when this might happen. With their musical future unclear, it allows us to focus on their recent work and the spirit of its production. While the group has strayed from the typical sounds they made themselves famous from, it is clear that the group is finding genuine joy in making music. The Now Now is an inspiring new installment in Gorillaz’ discography and a fresh look at the upbeat direction the group is taking their music in.