Label: Transgressive Records
Released: 12th November 2021
Iceland has been good for Damon Albarn over the last thirty years or so. A constant inspiration in life as well as musically, as well as a safe retreat at times, it’s surprising that it’s taken him this long to base a record around the ethereal country. ’The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows’, just like the nation in which it was entirely written and composed, carries a suitably quiet iciness, along with an overriding sense of calm that moves at a glacial pace.
Far from the pure pop nonsense of his other Quite Big Bands, this is a cerebral, meditative piece of work – the vague nature of many of the lyrics giving a clue as to the original plan of it being a purely instrumental record. Choruses were left at the airport seemingly. In its place, the quiet thoughts of a man beginning to see the end of middle-age creeping up on the horizon, seeing time march on in ways that didn’t seem plausible once upon a time. The opening title track sets the tone, a gentle tribute to a departed friend that seems to drift in like a morning sea haze. Much of the record feels like late-era David Bowie, Albarn’s voice carrying a fragility amidst off-kilter tones and a meandering form of lyrical poetry.
Make no mistake, this is no Britpop ghost trying to re-capture his youth or pretending to be anything that he used to be. Quite the opposite. Instead it’s the work of an artist who has always had many different faces, deliberately choosing to go down a low-key road, almost to the point where the casual listener will be crying out for some form of hook or memorable melody from time to time. Whether that means he has a load of pop nuggets stored up for Those Other Bands is a question for another time. Right now, he’s enjoying the view too much to worry about what’s next.