Wednesday, September 08, 2021

Gorillaz Celebrate Notting Hill Carnival With New EP ‘Meanwhile’

Coming off the back of 2020’s star-studded ‘Song Machine Season One: Strange Timez’, Gorillaz’ new EP ‘Meanwhile’ maintains a similar collaborative approach with features from AJ Tracey, Jelani Blackman, Barrington Levy, and Alicaì Harley.


The project spans just three songs that were premiered earlier this month at London’s O2 Academy in celebration of the legendary Notting Hill Carnival; which has again been cancelled due to the pandemic.

Nonetheless, ‘Meanwhile’s innovative genre-blending, alongside its stellar features, help to capture the blissful vibrancy of the Carnival.


Upcoming rapper Jelani Blackman opens the track list with his own nostalgic take on the Carnival. Set to a slightly darker and more low-key beat than the remainder of the EP, Blackman reminisces of days of “Red Stripe” and “rave”. He states that “back in day / Notting Hill weren’t no film”, referring to the Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant 1999 flick, and perhaps highlighting the gentrification of a staple of Black British culture since the 1960s. While Blackman’s longingness feels slightly offset by a more hopeful chorus, taken on by Damon Alburn or ‘2-D’, the emphasis on the word ‘Meanwhile’ lingers as if you can hear the ellipsis depicted on the EP’s cover art.


The second track ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ is a playful ska song awash with processed guitars and the occasional steel drum. Most intriguingly, we see West London’s AJ Tracey take on Alburn’s infectious chorus melody in a style akin to that of Kid Cudi, minus the Auto-Tune, before launching into a verse more typical of his previous material. Tracey’s rapid and candid flow works as a nice contrast to the more laid-back off-kilter refrains dotted throughout the song.


While the first two tracks celebrate Carnival in their own ways, the carefree feel of the festival doesn’t fully materialise until the final song ‘Déjà vu’ with the fabulous Alicaì Harley. Filled with slow vamping rhythms and, this time, copious amounts of steel drums, ‘Déjà vu’ feels the most at home with the EP’s theme.


The first few verses feature Alburn jovially slurring about the future. Lines such as “I think I’ll wear a space suit” and “Don’t forget your seatbelt” are followed by Harley’s humorous embellishments “Protect your head or you’ll end up dead”. The song does not take itself seriously, but this never retracts from the musicianship that drives the song. Alicaì Harley’s vocals are the true star, however, as the bridge cleverly escalates into a fast and furious refrain assisted by thundering kicks and snares before settling back into the song’s main sweet motifs.


Meanwhile’ is not the release many Gorillaz fans would expect, or perhaps want, but it is a thoughtful and passionate homage to cultures within Britain that are so often overlooked.


Moni Lerpiniere

Image: Gorillaz ‘Meanwhile’ Official EP Artwork

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