04 April 2011

2010: Gold Panda, Gorillaz

Gold Panda
Lucky Shiner

Released September 7, 2010 (Ghostly International)

Short Notes: Twitchy sound collage with a retro (8-bit) vibe.

Lin: C+

I think of albums like this as driving albums -- night driving in the high plains of Wyoming or the long expanses of I-80 passing through the towns of Nowhere, South Dakota. Occasionally a tree will pass by off to your left, or a trucker trying to stay awake forgetting his brights are on and blinding you momentarily. But most of the time it's rote, the only thing to do are minute adjustments of the steering wheel. Sometimes it's amazing: freedom by isolation, alone with nothing. But most of the time it's boring, just another thing to get through. Occasionally it's maddening if you're anxious for your destination. If you're calm enough to enjoy it it can be enjoyed. That just doesn't happen often.

Brandon: C+

After several listens, the only way I can really do justice to this album is to describe it as being like what I imagine Jandek would sound like, if Jandek was a little dance-y and worked mostly with a sampler. That’s pretty vague, but what I mean is that this record is build off of quotidian, forgettable samples--a single word, sonically manipulated out of recognition, a few blips repeated, a strummed guitar and a snippet of dialogue--that the artist is trying to craft together into something bigger. Unlike Girl Talk, the source material itself isn’t the point. Rather, by working with sounds that are individually forgettable, Gold Panda seems to be trying to make something that’s not only musically compelling, but also vaguely spiritual--as though you can, out of the sound collage, occasionally pick up little, recognizable moments of humanity. This is an interesting notion, musically and sociologically (although I could be attributing all this deep thinking unnecessarily). I’m just not sure this is record is successful on those terms.

I think I probably liked this more than Lin, if only because I found the opening track, “You,” a trippy, pitchshifted club track built off little more than handclaps and sampled voices rhythmically (and barely comprehensibly) repeating the words “you” and “me” to be remarkably good--catchy at an almost prefrontal level, but still sonically interesting. The rest of the album never really hits the initial high, sadly. Despite some longer spoken clips and more “organic” sounds (along with some Mario Bros.-style blips that evoke basements and the late 1980s) on the later tracks, nothing else on the record sounds quite as alive as “You.”

Plastic Beach

Released March 3, 2010 (Virgin/EMI)

Short Notes: For better or for worse, this doesn’t sound like a cartoonish side project anymore.

Brandon: A-

Right or wrong, I understood the first two Gorillaz records as hip-hop records, dominated by the sounds of their produces (Dan the Automator and Danger Mouse, respectively), and with the “guest” rapping as central to what made the albums interesting. Despite the fact that Plastic Beach starts with a Snoop Dogg track (“Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach”), this isn’t a hip-hop record at all. Both more eclectic and (despite the lack of a single uber-producer) more focused the earlier and very single-heavy records, this sounds like the electro-pastiche of one of my personal favorites (and a deeply underappreciated band), Big Audio Dynamite (an easy reference, as Paul Simonen and Mick Jones both play with the Gorillaz live). My favorite tracks here, the dark electro-soul of “Stylo” (with Bobby Womack and Mos Def), “Superfast Jellyfish” (with its bright 80s synths), and “Some Kind of Nature” (with Lou Reed) are wildly different, but each is held together by a carefully constructed and layered pop vision that’s light years beyond the Prince Paul-style quirky hip-hop production on their first record. This sounds less and less like the guy from Blur dabbling in new genres, and more and more like a statement on its own. None of the songs here are as immediately candy-coated and catchy as their earlier singles (“Clint Eastwood” and “Feel Good Inc”), but this record sounds more mature and ambitious, and I like it more on the second and third listen than at first.

Lin: B-

Wow, not what I was expecting. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn't this. I've never been a big fan of the Gorillaz -- the first album has two phenomenal tracks and a bunch of alright stuff and the second album is about the same. I kept waiting for Plastic Beach to break out, to give me something, preferably something like "Clint Eastwood" or "Feel Good, Inc." But, for all its star power (both within the band and the numerous guests), it never happens. I'm willing to postulate that my expectations are playing a large role in not liking this but, frankly, I don't really have all that much desire to go back and listen to it again. A couple of moments poke their heads about the fray -- the "Some Kind of Nature" with Lou Reed and "To Binge" -- but for the most part, I just find this album confusing.

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