THURSDAY, JULY 02, 2015 |
Posted by: Niko Demetriou
I have a genuine question for all the late Millennials, Generation Z kids, or whatever you want to call anyone who was born with Wikipedia to turn to for a second grade history project what was the first album you bought? I ask because the purchase of my first CD was a huge milestone back in the day, and I have a hard time imagining the same feeling of personal attachment exists in the digital format. The sense of ownership and individual connection that comes with having your new record playing on loop in the background doesn't lend itself well into an iTunes library. Could you recognize what your first purchase was or did it just get jumbled up with a mess of other downloaded digital copies? I really am sorry if the answer is no. Everybody only gets one first record, and I would hate to see that truly special moment get overlooked.
First record by no means the first album you ever listened to. I followed in my older brother's footsteps almost by necessity, stealing his grungy collection of The Offspring and Nirvana CDs. I enjoyed it and could see my tastes developing before my eyes, but there was one CD of his that would lead to a defining of my musical fate. I came across the debut, self-titled album of Gorillaz, a one of a kind virtual hip hop group with some strange electronic Japanese tendencies and enough punk influence to grab my attention at the time. "Virtual" both by means of distinct electro/dance sound and by their physical representation: a group of cartoon characters with personalities to cater to an immature middle-schooler.
I fell in love immediately. The big hit "Clint Eastwood" was the coolest thing I had ever heard back then and during the reign of 50 Cent and DMX it was the first hip hop track to really pique my interest. The album hosted smooth but eerie beats as well as "19-2000," an irresistible groove track that lyrically made no sense at all - it was perfect. I watched their cartoons and played their shitty little flash game they made in my spare time.
This was my new sound. So when their sophomore album Demon Days hit store shelves I only had one option. I told my mom I wanted a book from Barnes & Nobles so should would take me and I could pick up my very first album. I saved up my lunch money change and bought it with my own money and everything. To this day, Gorillaz remain as one of the most unique and brilliant bands in my mind, and Demon Days holds a position that no other record can fill.
What makes it such a special album is not only that it was my first purchase, but it's better than it has any right to be. Bursting with near contradicting styles, somehow it comes together under the strange kitsch sound that is so identifiably Gorillaz. Sci-fi hip hop, dub styled dance beats, dancehall and afropop tracks forcefully create depth, thanks to the different talents at hand.
Steady beat machine drum rhythms and the nonabrasive rapping of the fictional Russel Hobbs (Remi Kabaka) embodies the spirit of a collaborative hip hop persona. Vocalist 2D (Damon Albarn) mellows out the tracks for some sincere lyricism while Noodle, voiced by a collection of different Japanese female artists, is a genuinely fun and much needed lively addition to the crew.
When this team comes together like it does throughout Demon Days' entirety, nothing can compare. The album opens with "Last Living Souls" and "Kids With Guns" a pair of simple guitar and bass rhythms with a Brit rock non-straining vocal feel. These tracks aren't impressive by their complexity but by how easy it is to groove along and enjoy the simple patterns. These also host some heavy hitting subject matter as the names would imply. A more complete pop track is present in "Feel Good Inc." where De La Soul's raps as Russel get to shine alongside an honest singalong chorus. Similarly, the group gives us "Dirty Harry," another piece clearly included as a break from the surrounding somber tracks, crafted to be danced to.
However, a fact that I can't ignore is an unmistakable eeriness surrounding the record that at points can reach downright scary levels. "Every Planet We Reach Is Dead" is a fantastic track with a killer screeching guitar riff and chorus, but an absolutely haunting vocal performance; near whispers and a following group of background singers with loneliness in their tone.
One of my most distinguishable memories from all the times this album played out my alarm clock/CD player combo was my legitimate fear of the track "Fire Coming Out Of The Monkey's Head." I would hear the opening springy bassline and rush to skip the recording. A story track narrated in the most purposefully intimidating tone: telling the story of a town of "happy folk" living under the spirit of a mountain, visited by a group of "strange folk." Looking back now, I can appreciate the track for its beautiful composure, but fifth grade me was not having it.
"There were no screams, there was no time. The mountain called 'Monkey' had spoken. There was only fire, and then nothing."
Gorillaz's Demon Days isn't an easy album. It's rooted enough in recognizable themes to be appealing to such a broad audience but it's its oddities and genuinely fun atmosphere that put it above the pack. Of course, the album is not for everybody, though. It's easy to see how some can find the repetitive two and four bar loops annoying or obnoxious and the weirder aspects of the tracks unappealing, but there's a reason the group has found such a massive global audience.
This is the album that has had more influence on my musical tastes than any other of my top notch adolescence records. I now have an ear for everything obscure and it gave me a clear path I followed directly to the underground hip hop scene I surround myself with today. I'm not pleading for the album to receive more recognition; Gorillaz have done just fine without my hype. I'm asking for anybody who has not done so to give the record a listen. Everybody only gets one first album, and I couldn't be happier with my choice.