ALBUM REVIEW: Damon Albarn - The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

9/10

Damon Albarn - The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows

His last solo LP, Everyday Robots, took Damon Albarn back to Leytonstone in East London to reflect upon his childhood memories there. The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is by far a more international product. This sophomore solo effort took Albarn to Devon, Uruguay, Montenegro, Iran, and for the most part, Iceland. 

Iceland undoubtedly must have had a profound impact on Albarn, for he has bought a property there, recorded much of this LP with musicians, including former Verve guitarist Simon Tong and gained Icelandic citizenship. Whether it's the uniqueness of the Icelandic language, which contains over 100 words to describe the wind or the fact that the country is so safe that Iceland is the only member of NATO that maintains no standing army; The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is the antithesis of its 2014 predecessor.

Opening with the LP title track, which has a beautiful soundscape backdrop. One feels as if they have been transported to an outside beauty spot where one can benefit from the best the forest and mountains offer. Ironically, whilst this song inspires rejuvenation and positivity, the lyrical theme discusses mourning for someone/something that has now gone with "the sweetest leaves us and the fairest decay" and "heavens halo around you".

"The Cormorant" has not so much a haunting or unnerving backdrop with its soft organ but a sense of nervous mystery of a novice entering a new realm. There is a sense of mystery concerning the lyrics as Albarn sings about going "Into the abyss" and "I think she knows I'm a pathetic intruder".

The other songs with a tranquil and reflective soundscape feel include "Giraffe Trumpet Sea", which develops with jazz piano and experimental synths, so it sounds like a mellow and chilled jazz led prog record. The mysteriousness of the jazz sounds continues into the intro of "Polaris", which is the only song on this LP that comes close to reminiscing a Gorillaz track, particularly "El Mañana". The glockenspiel sounding backbeat accompanied by understated synths, quiescent sax riffs and haunting echo backing vocals continues to address the themes of balance and reflection.

Playout track, "Particles", continues with these themes beginning with passive and sombre organ chords, which also includes the John Clare inspired lyric "The Nearer the Fountain More Pure the Stream Flows", which came to life through Damon's chance encounter with a female rabbi on a flight to Iceland. The importance of connection and being attracted and drawn to something is addressed through the lyrics, "and only you darling can draw me back in".

The most up-tempo song, "Royal Morning Blue", has similar beats and BPM to Empire of the Sun's "We Are The People", where Albarn inserts a more natural accompaniment of piano keys and trombones.  The theme of fountains continues as he sings, "The nearer the fountain… I'm saved…" which is also apocalyptic and fatalist as Damon also sings ", Stay by my side at the end of the world Stay by my side Royal Morning Blue".

"Royal Morning Blue" leads into "Combustion", the rockiest and most audible song devoid of the tranquil healing qualities the mountains offer. Instead, there is trepidation, unnerving saxophone (albeit alongside soothing jazz piano) with screeching guitar sounds reminiscent to those on Blur's self-titled 13 and The Magic Whip LP's. "Darkness to Light" increases its BPM, which sees the drumming become more audible and pounding, which continues into "Esja", which sees an injection of guitars before it unexpectedly returns to the calming sounds of the sea and delicate waves.

Damon Albarn placed a lot of emphasis on getting an array of primarily natural sounds together for this record. For him, being close to mountains is the source of finding this perfection. Damon did not look back on what he had tried and tested before to great commercial success. Instead, he embarked on his journey and started again as if he was once again finding his way in the world. Whether Albarn felt spiritually lost, he has found himself again with The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows.

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