Gorillaz wields wistful synths on EP ‘Song Machine Episode 3’

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In the latest installment of the Song Machine project, British virtual band Gorillaz has taken a turn back to longingly crafted synth beats on Song Machine Episode 3. The band is known for melding Brit-pop sounds with hip-hop and funk, creating its own unique brand of alternative music, which shines especially bright on the EP. The record oozes with British charm, courtesy of Blur frontman and Gorillaz creator Damon Albarn. 

Intended to be randomly released throughout the year, Gorillaz unveiled the third EP, or “episode,” of the 13-part series April 9. Song Machine Episode 3 is only five minutes long, but the three tracks within it weave an entire story in the short span of time. The EP features one full-length song sandwiched in between two short clips (dubbed “Machine Bitez”) of Gorillaz characters 2-D, Russel, Murdoc and Noodle conversing about eyeballs “sweating,” or tearing up. “Machine Bitez #6” foreshadows the theme of the main song “Aries” — the idea of sadness due to lost opportunities for love and meaningful connections.

“Aries,” featuring guest vocals from Peter Hook of Joy Division and New Order fame, bears all the characteristics of popular ’80s music, but with a modern, electronic twist that works in its favor. Just the one song alone is enough to give the entire release the body and depth it needs to touch each listener in its own way. Complete with dreamy drum fills and cascading synths, “Aries” embodies its moniker, evoking peaks and valleys of emotion peppered with piercing somber notes.

The song begins with sounds of thunder before manifesting a heavy beat with a simple guitar riff. But there’s a fullness and richness to the song, typical of Gorillaz’s discography, that likely pays homage to Hook’s synth-driven background.

While Gorillaz is no stranger to churning out tunes with the same type of heavy instrumentals as Hook, the band has also paired the quintessential 1980s vibes of “Aries” with lyrics about the euphoria associated with potential reconnections. This is a welcome juxtaposition to the desolate undertones otherwise permeating the song.

“And it feels like I’m falling in, again,” sings 2-D (voiced by Albarn) along with Hook, feeding into the unshakeable sense of longing emanating from the song, even when 2-D sings about the highs of life. It’s this layering of emotion that again does more than please fans, but forces them to introspect. Each note and line delivers a pang, completing the golden ratio of nonchalance to substance Gorillaz has perfected over time.

“Machine Bitez #7” turns the energy back to humorous, with 2-D and Murdoc quipping, “Do you need some, um, do you need some antiperspirant for your eyeballs?” It’s as if a dark cloud has come and gone.

Song Machine Episode 3 encapsulates the same electronic dreaminess of Gorillaz’s former work, but it’s the staggering of emotion throughout the release that keeps listeners hooked, even through the nonmusical components. Other Song Machine EPs progress in the same manner, but each puts its own spin on an aspect of music that Gorillaz has grappled with, successfully forming a cohesive but refreshingly nonhomogeneous unit.

Instrumentally, Song Machine Episode 3 sounds exactly like the rest of Gorillaz’s music. But something about this EP, along with the rest of Gorillaz’s music, makes it different enough from other artists to stay innovative and interesting. Whether it’s the incorporation of rap, the diverse messages broadcast through the lyrics or the unexpected breakdowns, this artist knows just when to ever so slightly shake things up.

It’s as if Gorillaz is weaving each of its songs across every record into one long, spectacular album, and Song Machine Episode 3 is simply the latest piece in line to engage listeners on both emotional and spiritual levels.

Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].