Dan the Automator must be one of those fellows who is very nearly always busy. After lending his beat-making skillz to a couple high-profile projects in the past couple years, he seems to be just about everywhere. From Dr. Octagon to Handsome Boys Modeling School and Deltron 3030, he's layed down hours and hours of slick beats to keep heads bobbin everywhere. The Gorillaz is his newest project and it's a very likely progression from last years Self-Titled release by Deltron 3030. On that project, he teamed up with Kid Koala and Del Tha Funky Homosapien, and Damon Albarn of Blur lent help to a couple tracks. This time around, it's Dan the Automator on beats with Damon Albarn on main vocal duties and Del on backup (as well as Miho Hatori of Cibo Matto).
Bucking the trend of concept albums that fall miserably on their faces, this release by the Gorillaz is actually quite a bit of damn fun. It's the best when it puts Albarn in situations that you wouldn't normally hear him in (like dueting with the aforementioned Del), but also stumbles occassionally with a couple tracks that feel rather tossed-off and others that feel like they could have come off a Blur b-side (not to knock Blur b-sides, but you just want to hear something different from a side project).
The album kicks off on a high note with a nice, loping hip-hop beat and Albarn crooning over the top with Hatori providing backup chorus vocals. It isn't a super-innovative track, but it's upbeat and fun and gives signs of the excellent tracks to come. Unfortunately, the second track is one of the tracks mentioned above that feels like it could have come from Blurs self-titled release with a stab of chunky rock and Albarn sneering with thick wankery vocals that he's so good at.
The third track takes off on the right foot again, with the rumbling "Tomorrow Comes Today." It offsets the thick beat with some harmonica, but still manages to sound pretty desolate with Albarn adding subtle vocals. The first single off the album is also easily the most catchy. "Clint Eastwood" features Albarn singing just about as lackadaisical as possible for the chorus while Del breaks out with excellent vocal stylings that offset things perfectly. The hop-along beat accented with a piano and harmonica give things a playful feel and if you're anything like me, you'll find yourself humming along with the track well after it's over and wishing the duo would have done a couple more tracks together (although Del takes lead vocals again on the silly "Rock The House").
The rest of the album is sort of hit-or-miss, with most tracks taking on a pretty light feel that helps them to work much better than if they were trying to take themselves seriously. "19-2000" is a super-goofy sing-along with cheap Casio beats and plenty of electronic stylings while "Slow Country" throws a bit of a dubby feel into things. After a so-so rock track closer called "M1 A1," there's a bit of silence before a jungleremix of "Clint Eastwood" (which doesn't work nearly as well as the original) ends things. If you're a person waiting for the next Blur release, this might be good enough to tide you over a bit, and it's good for those looking for a bit of silly summertime fun. Although there are times where the beats take a bit of a darker turn, it's also probably the lightest fair that Dan the Automator has been involved in as well. It's hard to take things too seriously, but since the group imagines themselves all as cartoon characters anyway, they've already acknowledged that fact.