Miles Davis once said, “Man, sometimes it takes a long time to sound like yourself.” Over the jazz musician’s lengthy career, the biggest challenge to advancing his craft was the development of a distinguished style.
Damon Albarn has played a prominent role in the realm of British alternative music since 1988, fronting acclaimed bands Blur and Gorillaz as well as contributing to multiple African music collaborations and composing two full-length operas. Each project has subtly helped him express different facets of himself.
On this year’s “Everyday Robots,” Albarn’s first solo LP, he sheds all stage names in an effort to “sound like himself.” The result is a hauntingly beautiful album that, while revealing much about Albarn and his artistry, still feels opaque and concealing to a degree.
The title track, which opens the album, sets a paranoid tone that lasts for most of the album. The song meshes dizzy pulsating string samples with weary lyrics that show fear in the modern reliance on technology, a sentiment that carries over on the second single, “Lonely Press Play.”
Later on the album, “Mr. Tembo” is a colorful break from the hazy gloom that occupies the majority of the album. Written about Albarn’s experience with a baby elephant in Tanzania, the track bounces with a sing-along chorus and sunny ukulele parts. It feels a bit out of character for “Robots,” but is a welcomed addition nonetheless.
“Everyday Robots” features guest vocals from Bats for Lashes songstress Natasha Khan on the vulnerable “The Selfish Giant,” which is a lament about the difficulties of love “when the TV’s on/And nothing is in your eyes.”
Brian Eno pops up for the refreshingly optimistic closing track “Heavy Seas of Love,” singing alongside Albarn and the Leytonstone City Mission Choir. This track and “The Selfish Giant” are standouts on “Robots,” illuminating Albarn’s gifted ability to collaborate while not detracting from the solo nature of the LP.
Unfortunately, the album suffers from its reliance on the slow-burning meditative tracks that fill many of the slots. Tracks like “Hollow Ponds,” while lyrically stimulating, leave much to be desired musically.
In “You & Me,” Albarn refers to his use of heroin to incite creativity and, much like the aforementioned drug, the track feels sedative. Although the story behind the song is intriguing, the descending and melancholy atmosphere grows tiresome over seven minutes.
Although “Everyday Robots” experiences a few missteps, when the album hits its stride on tracks such as “Photographs” and “Heavy Seas of Love,” it is a gorgeous retrospective on an artist that has given so much to music.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, April 29 print edition. Sal Maicki is a staff writer. Email him at email@example.com.