Humanz Stands Up and Speaks Out

By Kimiko Maeda-Leon

The Rough Rider (Honolulu, Hawaii)

Humanz, the 5th studio album of the virtual band Gorillaz, came out on April 28, 2017. This marks the beginning of phase four for the band.

Unlike its predecessors, Humanz is politically charged, with most of its songs mentioning sensitive topics such as black oppression and manipulation of power. The overall atmosphere of the album is extremely dark; the band warps many if its sounds to create a dystopian-like feeling. The songs also have sporadic flat notes that twist the electronic melodies until they almost resemble machinery shutting down.

Though his name is bleeped out whenever mentioned, Trump–along with his policies–is a main focus of the album.

For example, in the song “Ascension,” Vince Staples protests police violence against African Americans and other ethnic minorities as he raps about America, a place “where you can live your dreams, long as you don’t look like me.”

The most blatant protest against Trump, however, comes in the form of “Hallelujah Money” featuring Benjamin Clementine. Here Clementine uses a tree as a metaphor to America and Trump, singing about how “scarecrows from the far east” will come “to eat its tender fruits.” He concludes that the only way to protect the tree is to build a wall around it. One of Trump’s most controversial policies involve building a wall to seperate the US and Mexico. He is also known for being extremely strict against immigrants from the Middle East.

The album, with 26 tracks altogether, is broken up by six interludes, along with an intro at the beginning. They serve to guide the listener into different levels of the dystopian, apocalyptic world in which the album takes place. The intro, “I Switched My Robot Off,” introduces the listener to a man who “switched” his “robot off,” causing him to lose the ability to speak and eventually break down.

The first interlude, titled “The Non-Conformist Oath,” places the listener into a crowd repeating the “non-conformist oath” to the speaker. The audio is intentionally aged, and it glitches throughout the speech, mimicking old fashioned WW2 speeches Hitler used to give to his armies.

The interludes continue to paint different aspects of the world in an extremely warped light. The third one, “Talk Radio,” portrays a talk show host prodding an unwilling guest, possibly protesting about how people of power manipulate what the public hears.

The last interlude, “New World,” takes place in an elevator. A man whispers “the elevator (too late) the new world” as the pitch of the song gets higher and higher, mimicking the feeling of ascension. The last five songs after it contain almost no warped sounds or flat notes, as if the listener really had landed in a new and improved world, escaping the dystopian one below.

The album does, however, provide hope. “We Got the Power” featuring Jenny Beth emphasizes man’s ability to love and provide support for one another. The title itself also leans towards the positive side; while the album could have easily toted a name to match the bleak undertones of its songs, the band decided on Humanz: something that encompasses both the good and the bad.

When looked at in all of its entirety, the album, littered with apocalyptic, disco-esque songs, portray an off-note (figuratively and literally) world that is dying. The once-cheerful aspects of it are now shutting down, as if collapsing in on themselves.

Along with the multiple mentions of Trump and other political issues, the album seems to imply that, if nothing is changed, the dystopian world portrayed will soon become reality. It also acknowledges that although humans are seemingly self-destructive creatures, they have the potential to be something more.

Photo Credit: Nan Palmero

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