New Music Corner Issue 4: The Gorrillaz, Benny The Butcher and a New Greatest Album

Rolling Stone updated their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time for the first time since 2012, adding Marvin Gaye's

Rolling Stone updated their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time for the first time since 2012, adding Marvin Gaye’s “Whats Going On.” (Courtesy of Facebook)

Jonah Rebert, Columnist

“Song Machine, Season One: Strange Times” by Gorillaz

Genre: Electronic, Dance Pop

The eccentric U.K. band’s latest release, “Song Machine, Season One: Strange Times,” is an introduction to a revolutionary concept the Gorillaz have undertaken, but failed to master. The artistic integrity and creativity of the virtual group has always been what makes them the antithesis of traditional pop/rock bands, whether through Damon Albarn’s individualized sound or comic book artist Jamie Hewlett’s iconic drawings that personify the group. Since their first release in 2001, Hewlett’s neo-psychedelic artwork has done more to define the band’s identity than any musical accompaniment. 

Although each character is present and the classic synth pop bass lines preside, “Song Machine” marks an experimental shift. The album rollout was confusing, with rumors about the project beginning as early as February, followed by a string of withdrawn singles, monthly music videos and the eventual deluxe drop on Oct. 23. Each of the 17 tracks contain a feature artist, ranging from Elton John to rap duo EARTHGANG to the late Afrobeat drummer Tony Allen. While most features enhance the songs rather than retract, Gorillaz fail to push the boundaries of their previous work. “Song Machine” is an art piece combining the world’s greatest musicians, not a traditional album. Rather than being a diverse culmination of musical talent and innovation, lazy songwriting accompanied by uninteresting sonic texture results in a forgettable release. Regardless of these flaws, “Song Machine” is still an incredibly ambitious release, and with volume two already in progress, Gorillaz have the potential for a future masterpiece, both musically and artistically.


“Burden of Proof” by Benny the Butcher

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

The latest release from Benny the Butcher, one-third of Griselda’s core group, is his eighth of 2020, proving once more that the rap collective has carved out their own braggadocious empire in the hip-hop scene. Cousins Conway the Machine, Westside Gunn and Benny the Butcher all hail from Buffalo, New York, an emerging city for rap led by who many consider to be this generation’s Wu- Tang Clan. Their eccentric boom-bap beats and aggressive ad libs define their style, although Benny strays from this while teaming up with producer Hit-Boy for his newest project. Having worked  with Nas and Big Sean, Hit-Boy brings a grandiose flavor to the project reminiscent of Lil Wayne and Rick Ross’s 2000s swagger. A minute and a half interlude connotative of an Italian mob declaration follows the opening track, introducing his gangster attitudes and paying homage to Mafia-influenced rap greats of the past like Jay Z and Fat Joe. Combined with Benny’s villainous flow, the project sounds like a venomous, bruising Mafia cut about drug abuse and crime. 

“Burden of Proof” also serves as Benny’s opportunity for reflection. Much of the songwriting discusses his old gang affiliations and elaborates on his experiences balancing the anxieties of his previous life to his new life in the spotlight. While already being a valid star in the hip-hop scene, Benny the Butcher and the Griselda crew continue to put Buffalo on the map with “Burden of Proof.”


“What’s Goin’ On” (1971) by Marvin Gaye

Genre: Soul

Last month, Rolling Stone updated their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time for the first time since 2012. They introduced  new releases from the past decade, incorporated a variety of previously underappreciated genres and commemorated Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” with the number one spot. As soul music is constantly being recontextualized and reimagined, classic sensual Mmotown ballads represent a time of simplicity. Amidst a tumultuous political climate in the early ’70s, Gaye’s songs swing on soft melodies while simultaneously protesting for Black Americans and denouncing the Vietnam War. The album’s title track, known as one of the most famous anti-war songs, swoons across pleas for peace at a time when police- brutalized hippie-era protesters were in the public eye. Gaye’s father was a minister, leading him to not only perfect his vocal inflections in the church choir but to adopt inclusive Christian principles into his music and activism. 


Despite the profound storytelling, the most enjoyable aspect of “What’s Goin’ On” is the raw emotion of Gaye’s vocal performance. Motown contemporaries like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding have developed their sound around social commentary that sounds like a love song, similar to Gaye; however, neither has released a magnum opus like his where each track flawlessly transitions to the next with perfect sonic development and lyrical depth. “Mercy Mercy Me,” a personal favorite of mine, is beautiful because of its lucidity as Gaye’s simple yet profound words shine over a joyous, jazz-infused composition. “What’s Goin’ On” is an American soul classic because of its empowering message and ability to truly resonate within the soul.