After releasing the ominous “Hallelujah Money” on the day of President Trump’s inauguration, Gorillaz are back with four more tracks from their upcoming album Humanz. Like 2010’s Plastic Beach, Humanz is shaping up to be an eclectic bricolage of genres, references, and sounds. “We Got the Power” is manic and kitschy anthem of positivity (“On a le pouvoir de s’aimer, okay?” yells Savages member Jehnny Beth). On “Ascension,” Vince Staples rages against white supremacy over eerily bright synths and a chopped up gospel choir. “Andromeda,” featuring D.R.A.M., is a laid-back echo of “Melancholy Hill.” “Saturnz Barz” is a Popcaan-headlined banger. The tracks are refreshingly original; it’s clear that Damon Albarn is determined to evade easy categorization of his music. The band, after all, is itself an act of misdirection and self-evasion: the “members” are cartoon apes.
The difficulty with music that evades classification so wildly, however, is that it risks incoherence. The juxtaposition of Staples’ blistering takedown of America with the late-Talking Heads silliness of “We Got the Power” softens the rage of the former with the hamminess of the latter. When layers of mockery, irony, goofiness, sincerity, and activism become difficult to separate, the risk of something important being lost grows. When does postmodern play become an ethical void, having nothing to say aside from its own cleverness?
We’ll know more once the whole album drops, but perhaps that incoherence is also the strength of these tracks. Maybe these songs are the most fitting soundtrack for a year where politics have become indistinguishable from entertainment, sincerity from irony, activism from self-promotion. The question they ask, through all of the dissonance and genre-twisting glee, is the same as that from “Hallelujah Money”: in an incoherent world “How will we know? / How will we dream? / How will we love?” Humanz is out April 28.