March 28, 2012

Stranded on the Right Beach

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This album will change your life. Six simple words, and yet so much contained in them.A person’s first, or 50th, love affair with an album is a thing of pure beauty — track pads worn from pressing repeat, CDs scratched and skipping. Ah, that little wisp of gleeful anticipation during the half second before a song begins, the initial words of the opening line already forming on your lips. Like any lasting love affair, our relationship with music can define who we are, change our beliefs and improve any and every circumstance. And, unlike most romantic liaisons, rarely does an album leave you heartbroken and worse for wear.Although Plastic Beach was not my first great romance in life, music or otherwise, the album has to this day maintained a firm grasp on my heart that won’t be weakened anytime soon. Since traveling to London this semester, I have only felt more inclined to soak up this magnificent city with a most fitting soundtrack — commanding white marble facades, vibrantly dressed locals and bustling crowds all seem to move to the spaced-out synthesizers and soothing drawl of Damon Albarn and Gorillaz. I have spent many an afternoon contentedly submerged in a recurring daydream: I walk, white headphones massaging my ears with the whimsical, pop-y melodies of “On Melancholy Hill,” the beat dictating my every step. “Orchestral Intro,” in its fleeting glory, surrounds each building with a shimmering aura of color, as pastel clouds drfit to the tranquil harmonies of violins. During the funky and strange hodgepodge of “White Flag,” people of every color and creed swirl around me as the track darts from the mesmerizing intro of the Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music to the dancehall-influenced musings of Grime MCs Kano and Bashy. This album transcends the hectic city sprawl, all the while incorporating enough industrial noise and gritty sentiment to also amplify the urban environment – every soaring riff somehow finds a skyscraper to glide across.Damon Albarn, in all his various forms, is clearly a man after my own heart. His lush vocals for Britpop titans Blur, the far-out animated conception of Gorillaz and the short-lived but excellent supergroup experiment with The Good, the Bad & The Queen all display his eclectic and refreshing talent. This February, Gorillaz even collaborated with Andre 3000 and James Murphy, former frontman of LCD Soundsystem (may they rest in peace) on the track “DoYathing”, part of the “Three Artists, One Song” series devised by iconic shoe brand Converse.Moonlighting on a handful of projects and contributing to so many more, I wonder if he ever gets a moment’s rest. By God, the man even plays more instruments than I can count on my two hands. That is some serious genius at work.My slightly embarrassing crush on Albarn aside, I love Plastic Beach primarily because it never fails to provide an hour’s worth of audible pleasure. A wealth of brilliant guest appearances infuse the album with a fresh sound: Bobby Womack and Mos Def lend a chilled out, futuristic spin to “Stylo,” while Lou Reed’s throaty vocals elevate “Some Kind of Nature” to the upper echelons of rock royalty. Gorillaz may have found a true synthesis in Swedish electronic group Little Dragon though, collaborating with it on two magnificent tracks on the album. On both “Empire Ants” and “To Binge,” Swedish-Japanese singer Yukimi Nagano lends the perfect female compliment to Albarn’s smooth, alluring vocals, while keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand paints a titillating, electrified soundscape.Whether largely providing the soundtrack for my 19-hour drive to the backroads of Tennessee for the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, or helping me acclimatize to the sometimes jarring sights and sounds of city life in New York or London, Plastic Beach has been a reliable friend for over two years now, helping me through thick and thin. Through its equally united yet diffuse sound, Plastic Beach somehow manages to alter itself on a daily basis, perfect on grey or sunny days, in the grass or whilst navigating bustling city streets. Although its effects seem both immediate and eternal, hard to grasp yet concrete, I can say with confidence that this album belongs to a select group that at some point in time have changed my life. My only advice is that if some kind friend offers you the intimate and touching gift of their favorite album and manages to utter those six words, take them without hesitation. You have everything to gain.

Original Author: Sarah Angell