Versus Gorillaz Edition: Demon Days vs. Plastic Beach

The Case for Plastic Beach

By Justin Cudahy, Staff Writer.

Let me start off by saying that both Demon Days and Plastic Beach are amongst my favorite albums. However, the way I see it, Plastic Beach took everything that Demon Days did right, and brought it to a whole new level. There is a lot more to Gorillaz than just the music. That being said, I’ll also be defending the band’s Phase three timeline, which not only includes the album but everything else associated with it.

When it comes to the music, Plastic Beach is severely underrated. Its songs are often overshadowed by their more popular tracks such as “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE” off Demon Days, which has diverted attention away from their other stuff. “On Melancholy Hill”, “Stylo”, “Empire Ants” … I could go on and list every track off Plastic Beach, but I won’t.

When comparing the opening tracks to both albums, Plastic Beach has Demon Days beat by a mile. “Orchestral Intro” sets up the rest of the album smoothly, while also segueing perfectly into “Welcome to The World of The Plastic Beach”. Plastic Beach also manages to close out the album a lot stronger than its predecessor, thanks to Bobby Womack who provides the beautiful vocals to “Cloud of Unknowing” before finally ending with the chilling yet poetic track, “Pirate Jet” which is guaranteed to give you goosebumps.

One of the things that make Gorillaz unique is their constant collaborations with several different artists. They established this style with their self-titled album in 2001, extended it in Demon Days, and then perfected it in Plastic Beach. Guest artists such as Snoop Dogg, De La Soul, Mos Def, Bobby Womack, Little Dragon, Lou Reed from The Velvet Underground, Mick Jones and Paul Simonon from The Clash, and even The National Orchestra for Arabic Music star throughout, showcasing the band’s diversity and arsenal of different styles and genres.

Another thing that Plastic Beach does better is feed into an actual theme. While Demon Days is also a conceptual album, it feels more like a collection of songs rather than an album with a story. Plastic Beach takes on a rather humanitarian approach by providing insightful commentary and taking a stance on ideas such as pollution, war, battling addiction and much more. It’s clever, and the more you listen to the album, the more it will grow on you. While Demon Days was more of a commercial success, Plastic Beach was an artistic success for the band, and real fans will understand that.

Outside of the music, Demon Days beats Plastic Beach in one thing, and that’s music videos. “Dirty Harry”, “El Mañana”, “Feel Good Inc.” and “DARE”? Even I know those were some great videos. To be fair, Plastic Beach suffered from budget cuts during its production, which as a result led to the scrapping of the music video for “Rhinestone Eyes” which, judging by the storyboard, would have been sweet. Despite that, the few videos that did come out in this phase were amazing. “Stylo” was filmed as a live-action music video and features Bruce Willis, so that automatically makes it cool. “On Melancholy Hill”, (which is also my favorite Gorillaz’s song)

had an amazing video as well. I mean come on, watching Noodle fire a machine gun on a sinking cruise ship while being shot at by fighter jets? That’s about as badass as it gets.

Another thing that makes Plastic Beach and Phase three for the band so great is the artwork. Despite being an animated band, the members age in real time which leads to a change and progression in artwork from co-creator, Jamie Hewlett. It is during this phase that we see some of the best artwork from Hewlett, which, when compared to Demon Days and Phase two, looks a lot more clean and stylistic. It may not be as important as the music itself, but it is still a factor.

I could go on forever talking about the storyline, live performances and such, but I think I’ve proven my point. Listen to Plastic Beach, and by that, I mean really listen to it, from beginning to end. If you can do that, then you will understand what I mean when I say that this is one of the most important albums of our time.

 

The Case for Demon Days

By Jon Fuchs, Music Director

What’s fascinating about a band like Gorillaz is that they don’t conform to just one specific genre. Obviously, Damon Albarn and co. take influences from several, like rock, hip-hop and other musical styles from various world cultures, but they shape them in a way where all their albums sound different, creating eras within their career. The most matured and aesthetically-interesting era out of them is the middle of their career, when they released Demon Days in 2005, which was arguably the best Gorillaz have ever sounded.

I remember when “Feel Good Inc.” flooded the radio and Apple iPod ads when it first came out. I was seven years old and was just beginning to realize what exactly modern pop culture was, since the only music I can remember liking as a kid was my parents’ Beatles CDs and the original London cast recording of Les Misérables. But when I heard “Feel Good Inc.,” I was blown away at the weirdness of it. It stuck with me until I saw the CD at my local music shop, and I begged my dad to buy it for me. With one listen of that record, my perspective of the music around me changed.

The minute-long intro to Demon Days could only be described as haunting. The haunting atmosphere brought on by what sounds like a droning bass clarinet and an endless sample of the line “Who put chemicals in the food chain?” It sets the mood for this emotionally dense record and continues into “Last Living Souls” and “Kids with Guns,” two extremely catchy tracks that have subtle political commentary. For example, “Kids with Guns” seems like just another song from Gorillaz, but it’s really about child soldiers brainwashed and drugged by rebel armies in certain countries, and how they’re tearing people apart.

“O Green World” and “Feel Good Inc.” are two fascinating tracks that bring a dystopian narrative to the record. Both the sounds and the visual look of the inner album art and music videos bring a dark, grim look to these songs, which have lyrics about the destruction of populations and resisting authoritative power.

The album continues into tracks like “El Mañana,” “All Alone,” “DARE” and “Fire Coming Out of the Monkey’s Head” continue the story of dystopia, mainly telling tales about death, destruction and war. One of the strongest tracks on the entire album is the title track, which ends the album by saying even though times will always be tough, you’ll make it through and improve your life. It’s a truly remarkable and uplifting end to such a deep and dark record.

Demon Days is for sure the strongest record in the Gorillaz discography, having the band’s best written songs and most creative narrative structure to date. There’s no doubt that whatever Damon Albarn releases this year will be great, but there’s no way it can be better than Demon Days.

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Versus: Mitski – Puberty 2 vs. Retired from Sad, New Career in Business

The Case for Puberty 2

By Jon Fuchs, Reviews Editor

There’s one thing I need to get across with this piece right here: Tanner is wrong. Obviously, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, and Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is amazing, but her most recent record, Puberty 2, is hands down her best album to date. Just look at the name alone: Puberty 2. What other name perfectly describes the themes and emotions Mitski’s music brings out? Challenging the listener with thoughts about love and sadness similar those one would have during adolescence, Puberty 2 is Mitski’s most honest and beautifully written record to date, with excellent production and instrumentation to match.

The opener “Happy” helps back this up through her storytelling, personifying the emotion of happiness as a lover who only comes to help periodically, leaving her sad and hollow again. It’s a beautiful opener that is just as relatable as it is catchy. The next track, “Dan the Dancer,” shows the diversity of Puberty 2’s influences, as it feels heavier and completely different from the last track. What doesn’t change, however, is Mitski’s soft and gentle vocals, which linger throughout the entire record.

“Once More to See You,” “Fireworks” and “Your Best American Girl” continue the record with lyrics about love, depression and self-identity. These are probably the densest songs on the entire record, with layers upon layers of different kinds of instrumentation, from distorted guitars to 808 bass. “Your Best American Girl” could arguably be considered one of the best tracks of 2016, with its loud, booming chorus and verses that feel the exact opposite, with a guitar melody so quiet, you can hear to metronome in the distance.

My personal favorite song on Puberty 2, “I Bet on Losing Dogs,” is probably my favorite Mitski song period. The song is about being in constantly crumbling relationships, which feels so incredibly real and heartbreaking to anyone who’s ever fallen in love and eventual despair. The opening lines “My baby, my baby / You’re my baby, say it to me,” sung with Mitski’s gentle voice, is so comforting and so depressing, you can’t help but get instantly attached. The track continues with a beautiful harmony between Mitski and the synths, that eventually end with a somewhat uncomfortable chord that fits perfectly with the emotions the track makes the listener feel.

The last few tracks on the record play off as a series of heartbreak. “My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars,” easily the most abrasive song on the entire record, is Mitski screaming internally at all of her everyday stress and anxiety. “Thursday Girl” is arguably the catchiest song on the record, with its nice, repetitive hi-hats and beautiful synth textures. The album suddenly ends with “A Burning Hill,” a short, tear-jerking acoustic song about leaving a toxic relationship. It acts as the perfect closure for such an emotionally intense and exhausted record.

It’s probably not as sonically epic or impressive than Retired from Sad, but Puberty 2 is still Mitski’s catchiest and best record yet. It’s got her most personal and poetic lyrics and some of

her best production to date. Once again, there is no such thing as a bad Mitski record, but this one really takes the cake as the best of the four.

The Case for Retired from Sad, New Career in Business

By Tanner Bidish, Contributor

Mitski Miyawaki, known to most solely by her first name, is an incredibly talented musician. Since 2012 Mitski has put out four albums all dealing with the crisis that is growing up. Speaking to issues of relationships, sex, identity, self-worth, and more, her work has amassed a following of youths in turmoil. This year’s release of Puberty 2 was met with praise and acclaim from across the board, and rightfully so. Puberty 2 is fantastic, and while it’s sure to top many album of the year list in 2016, it’s not quite the best Mitski record. That title would have to be her sophomore release, Retired from Sad, New Career in Business.

Retired from Sad was recorded in Mitski’s senior year of college at SUNY Purchase. The academic setting gave her access to recording equipment and resources – including a 60-person orchestra – that allowed her to sound professional even on this keenly experimental album. The record is highlighted by musical decisions that give way to a theatrical atmosphere. This reflects with each listen feeling like a performance in and of itself.

Songs rooted in a relationship with her mom bookend Retired from Sad. Each giving insight to the doubt, admiration, and love felt toward a mother. The hums and swells of strings sooth the eardrums across the entirety. It makes for an unparalleled emotional accompanist to Mitski’s assailing vocal range and skill. The crescendos in “Square” showcase the strength to switch Mitski commands the arrangements. She sore as a lyricist as well. The use of the nursery rhyme Humpty Dumpty as backdrop to “Humpty” sets a thematic juxtaposition of innocence and maturity; it’s intelligent and dramatic. And the dramatics don’t relent.

“Shame” seduces the listener under the might of strings, with vague unmusical screeches in the back. Mitski’s voice pulls you in, “It feels so good, and right outside the door and nobody knows.” She lets out a gasp. Reverb hits her voice at the song’s climax. Unfolding is a beautiful embodiment of the guilt and pleasure that can surround young sex. Theatrics continue with the unconventional instrumentation in “Circle”, which deliberately appeals to the track’s narrative form, over musical. The choice is clever, and slick enough that it may go unnoticed.

Retired from Sad, while sorrowfully dripping with emotion, doesn’t stray away from sweeter moments. “Strawberry Blond” is perhaps the happiest song in all of Mitski’s discography. Her bright upper range carries this acoustic ditty. Guitar, piano, violin all blend for a jubilant movement; a choir even joining in for the last hit of the chorus. More bitter than sweet is the piano lullaby, “Because Dreaming Cost Money, My Dear.” Mitski’s cooing vocal melodies pull at feelings of the past, a lost nostalgic hope. Calm brass, and vocal layering at the end pull together the theatric flourishes that are quintessential in this record.

The album takes its curtain call on “Class of 2013.” Naming her senior project with a phrase personally associated with moving to the next stage in life is powerfully. The title fits this piece impeccably. The listener sees her pleading with her mother; a chance to stay home, to be taken care of just a little longer, to not feel so adult. “Mom, am I still be young? Can I dream for a few months more?” The track is raw Mitski; only her voice and the piano.

Sir Isaac Newton is often quoted with saying, “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.” Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the set of shoulders holding Puberty 2. Puberty 2 is an incredible work, but its themes are – at their core – a further elaboration of what Retired from Sad started. Structurally both operate on similar levels, each even ending with an acoustic ballad featuring Mitski with a single instrument. The 2013 release may not stand taller in the public eye, but Retired from Sad, New Career in Business is the essential Mitski record, and her most definitive release to date.