New York Times AUGUST 24, 2014 - by Sameen Amer


British singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Damon Albarn has helped shape alternative rock for nearly two-and-a-half decades. Following his widespread recognition with Britpop outfit Blur, virtual band Gorillaz, and the unnamed super-group generally known as The Good, The Bad, & The Queen, as well as an array of other musical ventures (including, but not limited to, opera and theatre soundtracks), he has made his official studio debut as a solo artist with the album Everyday Robots.

For the most part, the album is melancholy enveloped in exotic rhythms. Albarn has joined forces with Richard Russell to write and produce this project (with additional production by Brian Eno). The record reflects on our tech-obsessed lives, exploring the contrast of nature versus technology in a gloomy set of twelve tracks.

Save the joyous, upbeat Mr. Tembo (which he originally sang to a recently orphaned baby elephant in Tanzania, and yes, it is exactly as precious as that sounds), the album is mostly mellow and reflective, wading through contemplative lyrics and subdued melodies. Guests show up occasionally to offer support. Brian Eno adds vocals to the somewhat Bowie reminiscent You & Me in which Albarn references his past drug use, and the piano adorned album closer Heavy Seas Of Love, which additionally employs the talents of The Leytonstone City Mission Choir, who can also be heard on the delightful Mr. Tembo. And Bat for Lashes singer Natasha Khan provides gentle, back-up vocals on The Selfish Giant, a beautiful ballad about a stagnant, failing relationship.

Even though this is technically his first solo album, we are already very familiar with Albarn's sound, and what he offers here won't surprise his audience. It may perhaps be a tad darker and mellower than usual, but its overall vibe and songwriting keep with the style of the renowned musician who created it. The album is well-made, and its production nicely complements the material. The sonic embellishments work well to create an almost eerie atmosphere and make it very clear that Everyday Robots wasn't made for a cursory listen. The record needs multiple spins for listeners to absorb its essence, get acquainted with its complex tapestry and appreciate its many nuances.

On the whole, Everyday Robots is a solid, personal effort that is moody and atmospheric. It creates a pensive ambience and engulfs you in its downcast feelings. But between contemplating the pitfalls of modern life and sampling Richard Buckley, the album starts to feel a bit self-indulgent. And it could have used some more up-tempo moments to contrast its many lows - not to take away from its sadness but to highlight it. As it stands, Everyday Robots won't be able to capture the attention or interest of listeners who want something more immediate, but if you want a melancholic record that grows on you as you discover more of its subtle shades with each listen, then this album is well worth a try.