Trick question! Gorillaz are the fake cartoon band created by musician Damon Albarn and visual artist Jamie Hewlett for two awesome albums (so far, fingers crossed) in ’01 and ’05 — “Clint Eastwood,” “Feel Good Inc.,” all that. Monkey: Journey to the West is the title of an innovative opera that Albarn, Hewlett, and director Chen Shi-Zheng created last year based on a 16th-century Chinese epic saga, as well as a soundtrack CD they released this week. Oh, and Albarn and Hewlett also created a cool related animation for the BBC’s Olympics coverage this summer.
Confused yet? Have I mentioned that the lyrics to Monkey are all in Mandarin, at Albarn’s insistence? But wait! At a recent informal press conference I attended with about a dozen other reporters, Albarn said it was pure “coincidence” that Gorillaz and Monkey share such similar names. I’ll leave it up to you to debate that point. But the Monkey album is definitely worth checking out for Gorillaz fans — whether or not you had a chance to see the opera during its runs in the U.K., France, and South Carolina. (They’re still figuring out whether it’ll be possible to bring the stage performance in some form or another to more locations in the U.S.) And don’t be turned off by the opera thing if you’re not into that. Said Albarn at the press conference: “The music in the show had to be slightly different from how I envisaged it, because of the nature of opera houses — the acoustics, and the respect for those amazing spaces that are more comfortable with Verdi and Mozart. So a lot of my electronics and my drum machines, I tried to keep them less apparent; on the record it’s much more my style of production.” Sure enough, it’s fascinating to hear how his sonic trademarks from Gorillaz and elsewhere show up on Monkey, only they’ve been developed into extended instrumental suites instead of three-minute pop tunes.
You can check out a preview clip below to get an idea of how that works. I know I’m digging it, but I’m a huge fan of practically everything Albarn’s worked on in the past decade and a half. So what do you say, Gorillaz appreciators — have you heard any of the Monkey music? What do you make of it?