September’s Album of the Month Club
Discussion Sunday, September 12 at 4:00pm EST
You are in the right place when a member of The Riff’s Album of the Month Club breaks down ‘60s artists by explaining “Sam Cooke is for smooching”. That’s what David Acaster said when we were discussing music of our youth in light of our August 8th discussion on Ace of Base’s The Sign.
Our most gracious host and kindred spirit, Nicole Brown generously shared a touching personal story that inspired us and redefined The Sign for us through her musical revelations. She also bookended it with some pretty awful/awesome dad jokes.
I cannot get enough of the warmth, sincerity, humour, intelligence and earnestness that comes out of our discussions and I feel so lucky to be part of this community. It was a pleasure to be in the virtual space again with Alexander Briseño and to ponder how to categorize pop music with Keith R. Higgons. Terry Barr brought us to his days raising a young family in the ‘90s and added his most wonderful narrative flare in our discussions on the music that matters. We all felt you reach a point where the shame of perhaps naive and less refined choices in pop music don’t matter and are worth celebrating. It’s the full circle of the astute music fan.
I do hope you all can join for next round.
Honoured with the task of picking the next album, I’m grateful for the appointment but tossed and turned over it for a few nights.
As Terry Barr mentioned in his June announcement for the Record of the Month Club, the criteria are a lot more complicated than simply picking a favourite album. For me, it is also difficult to pick an album that has the best story when albums become the texture of eras over moments in my life. Albums that brought universal moments of awe like Nevermind or Pet Sounds were crossed out to reconsider under-appreciated albums and avoid reiterating perfunctory rock canon.
I also wanted to choose something that would generate conversation for people of all generations and musical preferences. I wanted to choose something that fucks with genre and subverts tradition while staying true to the holistic concept of an album. So I chose an album that focuses much more on collaboration and postmodern concerns. One that I decided — and second guessed — but could not stop thinking about for 3 days.
So without further ado, my choice is:
I was living in Tokyo when the Gorillaz’ Demon Days dropped in 2005. Navigating the megapolis alone had a profound impact on how I interpreted the album. I am excited to hear about its reception elsewhere and whether you could overcome its marketing ubiquity, see beneath the hype and be able to call it the contemporary classic it has already become. Demon Days was ahead of its time, is more relevant than ever and is gaining appreciation as we look back.
Demon Days was the culmination of Damon Albarn’s dark creative genius as much as it was a collaborative masterwork. It foregrounded some of the best in contemporary music for British audiences, was produced by then lesser-known Danger Mouse and stars some of my favourite favourite hip-hop artists, including Neneh Cherry, Bootie Brown of Pharcyde and De La Soul. Vice’s great retrospective of the album asked Gorillaz’s drummer Russel about the distinct identities in the album and he explained:
For Demon Days, each and every person was chosen to appear for the particular attribute or texture, or aspect of culture they represent…. Dennis Hopper, the anti-establishment legend; De la Soul, the positive force of hip-hop; Roots Manuva and Martina Topley-Bird, ethereal siblings… Ike Turner, the dark force of soul; Shaun Ryder, the most prodigal son, the voice of hedonistic funk and the pantomime villain; Bootie Brown, the conscious objector; Neneh Cherry, as the streetwise B-girl. These agents would all play parts against each other in the acts of Demon Days.
The album made bold comments about war and the environment using thrilling, sinister beats and lyrics with tropes of brutality and terrorism, melodically coloured in a neon rainbow of city light. The album forges elements of rock, pop, disco, trip hop and hip hop with slick grace and foot stomping grit.
This album laid the groundwork for the crossover in the music industry. It emulates the idea of a concept album by staying whole in its temporal concept of taking place throughout one night, while taking us on a journey outside formulaic notions of genre. Tonally, Demon Days is moody and dreamy as much as it is horror and gospel.
The full-scale multimedia reach of the album was prescient in the current rise of the anonymous performer today. And the music leaps from its aural bounds straight into comic imagery. As Camus has observed “fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth” the band’s comic incarnations are best appreciated under this lens.
Understanding how hard it is to place a band like Gorillaz next to greats like Blur and Radiohead, Vice succinctly argues:
Now, we can recognise it a little more clearly for what it was. A thrilling allegory set on the precipice of an increasingly dark stretch of modern history. Listening to the record now it feels more pertinent than ever. “Kids With Guns”, “O Green World”, ring with almost smug levels of prophecy. It makes sense in many respects for a world as ugly as ours can be, it would take cartoon characters to draw the real picture.
I think that there are qualities for everyone to relish in Demon Days, and for the purposes of our club, it beat out The Queen Is Dead, Sandinista!, and Talkie Walkie. Demon Days was very memorable for me when it came out, but I want to hear about how it entered your life or how it reads to you now entering your life. Bring your love or your hate. Or both. I can’t wait.
Here is the Zoom link for the discussion:
Sep 12, 2021 4:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
Join Zoom Meeting: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87323145034?pwd=eVh2SHBEMVZQUFZSS1JkS3FGb2JoZz09
Meeting ID: 873 2314 5034
Reminders will go out leading up to the event!
Please extend to those I know I have missed.
Nicole Brown Terry Barr Alexander Briseño David Acaster Rob Janicke Noah Levy Keith R. Higgons Kevin Alexander If Ever You’re Listening Pedro B. Gorman Pierce McIntyre Christopher Robin Steven Hale Bonnie Barton S.W. Lauden Zsófia Vera Danielle Loewen Frank Mastropolo Paul Combs Reuben Salsa Kathryn Dillon Gary Chapin Alex Markham JP Timko JL Matthews AJ Wiseman Nelson George Sude Hammal Jeffrey Harvey Chris Zappa
Jessica Lee McMillan © 2021