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Damon Albarn has always seemed to struggle to locate himself. As Britpop King in Blur, he declared that ‘modern life is rubbish’ and spent the majority of the nineties translating everyday British experiences into irresistibly catchy pop songs, despite many featuring depressing and pessimistic narratives. With Gorillaz, he has found himself scrutinising, and conveying a fear and suspicion of the political through his albums Humanz (2017) and The Now Now (2018), adding to an already expansive discography.

“There is a timelessness to Parklife, it is fused together with an overarching sense of Britishness”

Arguably his most famous album, Parklife (1994), harnessed the popular sentiments of the nineties and crafted it into a work which has endured. There is a timelessness to Parklife, it is fused together with an overarching sense of Britishness which characterised the popularity of Britpop. But if you strip away the poppy veneer of this album, you find much darker themes, which lead to the same thread he has followed through his career: a sense of trying to belong. ‘London Loves’ conveys the excitement of life in an urban city, but also a place you can never keep in touch with. ‘End of a Century’ denotes the strange feeling of the imminent future, as well as the pessimism which clouds any hope; ‘Tracy Jacks’, a comic mid-life crisis, its tone covering up a catastrophic fracturing of identity. Ultimately, there’s no sense of satisfaction for Albarn.

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The same pessimistic commentary underlines his work with Gorillaz. Albarn has utilised the virtual band’s success as a platform for despondent comments on many issues, masking the political undertones of the music with vibrant hip-hop tones. Through this project, he constantly gives a voice to the underexposed, fusing together a myriad of styles and creating a product which is creatively striking and addictive. His most recent venture outside of this second solo album is the audiovisual project Song Machine (2020), which seems completely opposed to the clean and linear aesthetics implied in its recent promotional material.

“There is a tangible introspection which colours his music”

He has spent the last three decades working with artists as diverse as Elton John, Grace Jones and Kali Uchis. Yet despite the intensely collaborative nature of much of his work – including extensive external songwriting credits – there is a tangible introspection which colours his music. Everyday Robots (2014) seems to translate this introspection into loneliness. Not a completely tragic loneliness, which prevails in some of Blur’s later work (‘No Distance Left To Run’, for example), but rather a sense of urgency to reclaim his individuality; to return to his roots; to spend time recollecting and rearranging his own memories and experiences with his home life.

After such a successful international career, and exposure to different genres and forms of music-making, it is striking how Albarn finds solace in the simplicity of Everyday Robots. This album is anxious about so many things, however chiefly settles on a desire to reclaim and feel the past – to feel what has been lost through time. While all of his music is brilliant, this record does appear as his most genuine, most authentic, most personal. It seems like both a refuge from himself and a process of locating himself. He is constantly trying to find some sense of identity in the places he travels to or returns to, creating a semblance of dislocation in many senses.

While Everyday Robots encapsulates his own experiences, his latest endeavour The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows (2021), was composed in, and chiefly inspired by, the landscapes of Iceland. I find that his work is primarily interested in people – all the people – and their relationship with each other, time, and nature. I’m also wondering what draws him to the uncontentious country of Iceland, and how an album inspired by these landscapes will enjoin with his discography.

“A man who has experienced both life in the spotlight as well as a strong sense of loneliness”

Announcing his new album, Albarn described its essential themes as “fragility, loss, emergence and rebirth”; there is certainly a sense of beginning again with this new venture. It seems fitting that an album with these focuses originates from a man who has experienced both life in the spotlight as well as a strong sense of loneliness and isolation, a duality which is projected throughout his work. As for the Icelandic inspiration – perhaps it is the geographical isolation and pure simplicity that has provided Albarn with a clean slate.

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He has described the development of the album as his personal “dark journey” which “led [him] to believe that a pure source might still exist”. Whether that be referring to nature, spirituality, or creativity, it is evident that Albarn is far from finished on his journey to locate himself and situate himself within the world he landscapes – Iceland having seemingly reignited his desire to uncover some semblance of an answer through music, something which he does best.

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows will be released on 12th November 2021.