As the frontman of the rock band Blur and later also the initiator and producer of the fictional electro band Gorillaz, Damon Albarn helped British mainstream pop music take its current form in the 1990s. Today, the multi-talented Albarn is active in hip-hop, opera, electronics and world music. Albarn is a name that is still too often overlooked when it comes to depicting contemporary pop culture. Whether that will change with his second solo album ‘The Nearer the Fountain, more pure the Stream flows’ remains to be seen. It won’t be the quality of the work, but it’s an album that isn’t easy. An album that only wants to reveal its deepest secrets to listeners who take the trouble to seriously delve into it. The reward if you actually do that turns out to be immeasurably great.
The album is a conceptual ode by Albarn to his second homeland, Iceland. All the material on the album was written in Iceland before the pandemic and has now been recorded with the help of a large number of Icelandic musicians and some of the longtime collaborators Albarn has collaborated with on albums by his bands Blur and the Gorillaz.
A special mention deserved for this album mixer Stephen Sedgwick. The man is also an old acquaintance of Albarn and has previously mixed albums by Blur and the Gorillaz, but also, for example, the latest solo album by Paul McCartney. His experience in mixing film music (Jawbone) comes in handy on this Alburn album, which sounds enormously atmospheric and cinematographically wide. After a first acquaintance spin, the listener remains mostly confused and also integrated, still looking for what to do with it. What does stick with you right away, however, is the truly phenomenal mix. This album sounds like music should sound. What an achievement.
The album lifts the music, the arrangements to the foreground. The feeling dominates and takes you on a journey of discovery. The lyrics are secondary to that, and it takes real effort from the listener to concentrate on the lyrics. They are beautiful but subordinate to the music. Albarn’s interpretation contributes to this by being timid and unobtrusive.
A song like ‘the Coromorant’ is exemplary for the album. In the beginning, you hear softly but clearly in the mix a field recording of a babbling brook. A comforting beat in the background, along with a hypnotic bass, forms the basis of a soundscape of piano, synths and guitars. Not an easy arrangement, but close your eyes and let yourself be carried away by the beauty. Alburn’s voice and recitation sometimes evoke parallels to the voice of Elvis Costello in this song.
‘The Tower of Montevideo’ is another gem that I want to give some extra attention. The lead role is played by a beautiful jazzy saxophone line by none other than Mike Smith, one of the original members of the Dave Clarke Five! A rhythm that leans against Latin music keeps a piano meandering through the arrangement like a mountain stream. Magnificent.
The almost Dadaistic-like composition ‘Giraffe, Trumpet, Sea’, which flows seamlessly into ‘Polaris’, represents the more abstract side of this album. Audio search pictures in which you can lose yourself wonderfully. But first you will surprise yourself about it.
Albarn has made a mystical, magnificent album that only reveals itself to the listener after the possible effort, but then turns out to be a source that keeps on giving. The music year 2021 has so far been one that would not become one of the best vintages of pop music, but with ‘The Nearer the Fountain, more pure the Stream flows’ Damon Albarn makes up for a lot. It’s a masterpiece. (9/10) (Transgressive)
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