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Spins: Damon Albarn • The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

| November 30, 2021

Damon Albarn 

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

(Transgressive Records Ltd)

The stark black and white boulder on the cover of Damon Albarn’s new solo album announces immediately that this will not be the Day-Glo dance party of his band Gorillaz, nor will it conjure the dandy day-in-the-English-life of his 90s Britpop band Blur. Instead, Albarn created The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows as an orchestral love letter to his new home near Reykjavik. After 24 years of visiting Iceland, he was granted citizenship this year. His living room, featuring a grand piano and a massive wall-length window overseeing the black-sand coastal beaches, was where he began piecing the album together. After sitting on the demos for about a year, Albarn took the recordings to London, and from there, he began flushing out sophisticated, arcane music more suitable for a night at the opera instead of a sweaty rock club. These songs are Damon Albarn’s darkest material, a true afterimage of the bouncy Tony Blair-era Britpop classics like Parklife and The Great Escape.
Turning 50 and losing his friend (the legendary Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen) left Albarn with a little more thought about life’s brevity, which is reflected in these sepia-toned arrangements. However, to say this is a depressing listen is entirely misleading. The sonic detail offered on every track here is something to cherish. Nothing sounds tossed off. “Royal Morning Blue” is a true Albarn classic, complete with an epic melody that slowly devastates. “The Tower Of Montevideo” sounds like a lost Scott Walker demo full of woozy saxophone, vintage synths, and egg-timer drum machines. The three instrumental sketches scattered throughout find him stretching out into bits of Bitches Brew-era free noise with one named “Esja” after the sprawling mountain range right outside his living room window. The Icelandic landscape and temperate weather play a huge part in the music, with rainfall and breaking waves creeping in on multiple tracks. While the thumping beats of “Polaris” are the closest thing to “pop music” attempted on the record, the autumnal melody and restrained Albarn vocals clearly show no interest in chasing current trends here. Thirty years after Blur crashed the rock world with their debut album *Leisure, Damon Albarn is still creating challenging and rewarding work.
8/10
– Andy Derer

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