ORILLAZ – “Humanz”
THE GOOD: Cartoon band and long-time Damon Albarn (Blur) project Gorillaz comes back with a fourth proper album and first in seven years.
THE BAD: The Gorillaz catalog is one of diminishing returns. “Humanz” is fine, but continues this downward trend.
THE NITTY GRITTY: When Albarn started putting this record together in late 2015, he told all collaborators to imagine a world after Donald Trump wins the U.S. Presidency. Prophetic? Well at the time, a lot of people didn’t see it actually happening. So, the entire vibe of “Humanz” is a rebellious doomsday house party thing; not overtly political, but subtle jabs against the new establishment are certainly here.
Too bad the record feels extremely scattershot; some collaborations working much better than others. And all too often, Albarn himself slips too far into the background. Still, highlights include the slick Kelela contribution “Submission,” the heart-wrenching Benjamin Clementine piece “Hallelujah Money,” and the dark damaged funk of “Sex Murder Party.”
BUY IT?: Sure … and spend the extra couple of bucks on the deluxe edition if only for the super strange Carly Simon appearance.

PICK A PIPER – “Distance”
THE GOOD: Canadian electronic artist Brad Weber (AKA Pick a Piper) travels the world, finds inspiration and creates “Distance.”
THE BAD: No.
THE NITTY GRITTY: A sometimes-collaborator with electronic/dance artist Caribou, Weber now fronts his own collective with a couple of musician buddies and a handful of guest vocalists. “Distance” is a nine-song travelogue that’s half vocal and half instrumental. The beats and atmospherics always take center stage as the man leaps between synth-based indie pop tunes and more ambient rhythmic pieces.
“Distance” finds a nice balance between the two extremes; the record is an incredibly coherent whole with a seamless flow. The collection also slips into a happy medium between aggressive dance floor bangers and more delicate chillwave. You won’t get stressed, but you won’t drift off either. From the swirling choruses on “Geographically Opposed” to the tribal female chants decorating “Flood of My Eyes” to the pulsating bounce carrying “January Feels Lost,” one gets swept up in the colorful and throbbing surroundings.
BUY IT?: Sure.

FUTURE ISLANDS – “The Far Field”
THE GOOD: Baltimore synth-pop/indie rock outfit Future Islands come back with a confident fifth.
THE BAD: No complaints.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Their formative years behind them, Future Islands broke out big time three years ago when the band’s performance of “Seasons” on the Late Show with David Letterman became an internet sensation. All of a sudden, fortunes changed for the better while the guys were touring for what was already their fourth album.
So where do you go from there? “The Far Field” keeps the momentum pushing forward. Frontman/lyricist Samuel T. Herring and his crew deliver a tight record filled with confident compositions that continue to blur the lines between new wave and post-punk. One can detect the New Order influence within the backbeats and basslines, traces of O.M.D. spread across the keyboards, and big dramatic melodies in the tradition of Doves or Editors on top of it all. Toss in one duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry and the evening is complete.
BUY IT?: Definitely.

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