by Lexi Anderson
The name Damon Albarn is familiar to many. Whether you know him as the front man of the famous Britpop rock band Blur, or as the voice of Gorillaz, Albarn has made his mark on the music industry. With his newest solo release, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows, he once again creates an album distinctly out of line with his previous works. Moody, wandering, and at times unexpected, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows feels like the natural progression for Albarn on his journey through music.
Damon Albarn is no stranger to experimentation. Over the years, he has created pop-rock anthems, electronic hits, and has even worked on an immersive theater soundtrack. Having achieved early success with Blur, he had the room to experiment and create what he wanted regardless of public opinion or commercial success. This has resulted in Demon Days, the revolutionary album by Gorillaz, but also far less known works such as his 2002 album Mali Music, a collection of collaborative tracks with Malian musicians. Now, with The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows, Albarn produces a relatively middle-of-the road record, dialing back and allowing bare instrumentation and vocalization to tell his story.
The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is a classic lockdown project. Contemplative and quietly dark, the whole album is imbued with a sense of weariness. In the opening and title track, Albarn conveys his feelings of loss with beautiful lyricism, allowing the words to shine through with a simple, ambient backing. “You were gone, the dark journey there / leaves no returning / It’s fruitless for me to mourn you / but who can help mourning?” he sings, voice long and low over a soft piano backing track. This flows into the second song “The Cormorant,” which pulls in the elements of “The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows,” while adding a syncopated beat, moving away from a pure ballad of loss and towards a subtly disquieting, almost jazz-like track.
Throughout the album, there is a common thread of piano-heavy instrumentation, aided by drum-machine beats, sometimes featuring synth or other electronic elements. It feels as if each song is merely a continuation of the previous, threading together common elements so that each song feels more like an act rather than a distinct entity. However, despite a general feeling of continuity, there are times when the common ties are violently broken. In the fourth song, “Combustion,” an onslaught of saxophone and heavily fuzzed-out guitar seems to break through the dreamy, smoky precedence of the rest of the album, before fading back into the expected piano tracks.
The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is an exhibition of Albarn’s expertise. Pulling together lyricism, strong thematic elements, and masterful genre-bending, it’s an expression of one man’s thoughts and fears through the pandemic, many of which mirror our own. Forever changing and creating, it’s unlikely that The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is Albarn’s last project. It will be remembered, however, as a hauntingly beautiful, admirably vulnerable piece of work, and will continue to speak to loss and reconciliation for a long time to come.