A year ago, while remaining tight-lipped on details of a sequel to the rousing funk of 2005’s Demon Days, Gorillaz mouthpiece Damon Albarn expressed his wish to work with “an incredibly eclectic, surprising cast of people” for their next project. That project, which has since been christened Plastic Beach as a nod to Albarn’s seaside retreat, addresses such desires with spellbinding aplomb. The album’s lead single, “Stylo,” is released today, though it leaked weeks ago and has since been available via more disreputable means than iTunes. It features fêted Brooklyn emcee Mos Def, fresh from his reputation-saving The Ecstatic and a scene-stealing turn on Blakroc, and blues legend Bobby Womack, who was reportedly convinced to appear on the record only after assurances from his daughter.
The track is startlingly dark alongside the group’s forerunning singles, built on a solemn, low-toned synthesiser hook and Albarn’s eerily ethereal chanting. Womack wails with intensity, “If its love is electric, it’ll be flowing on the streets/Night after night, just to get through the week,” as the salvo of synthesisers reaches a crescendo. Mos Def—who joins the group complete with his own animated character, game vendor Sun Moon Stars—is kept quiet until the finale, contributing his lo-fi verse, which is similarly centered on harnessing electricity, through a tin of beans he found washed up on Gorillaz’s plastic beach. At a meager four bars, it’s a sweet, if unfortunately short, cameo from Mos, who has promised that his work on album track “Sweepstakes” ranks among his best.
The sinister groove of “Stylo” catches Albarn and his band of disparate collaborators in a far less buoyant mood than we left them after Demon Days, which should prefigure an interesting sound for their upcoming long player. Until then, there’s plenty to savour from this terrific foretaste: a melancholic thumper, perhaps 2010’s strongest single so far.