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Plastic Beach — where the cool is this summer

Several weeks ago, you read about my neuroses in regards to earwigs. That I put myself out there like that in this small town should be beside the point but I hopefully created some thought about what your own earwigs might be — hell, Karl comes to me all the time since I wrote that column and reports what sad thing is disturbing his day.

While that column focused on perennial earwigs, I failed to mention those songs that temporarily get stuck in my head on a short-term basis; it happens all the time. Songs ephemeral in their ability to take up space rent free in my head and then move on (unless they’re destined for eternal damnation). So far, this month, I have a few.

“Tighten Up” by The Black Keys is one of those. If you have unreasonable filters on your computer, you may not be able to view the Youtube video at youtube.com/watch?v=mpaPBCBjSVc&feature=fvst, but the watching is not the point (the video is hardly a classic), it’s the listening that, I’m sure, will also give you an indigent earwig.

Secondly, Yeasayer has a song called “Rome” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ixCijaJtdY) that reminds me of the best of the worst — Depeche Mode, Scritti Politi, ABC —yeesh! And yet, the song won’t go away, hanging out in my head like a derelict who has to be rolled out onto the front lawn and left for the cops.

Likewise, with no video to view or contend with, the Sleigh Bells have me driven the most songs into my head in this, our early summer. Supposedly M.I.A. collaborated on the Sleigh Bells project and I can. Not. Wait. For her album, to see what she has come up with this summer (the Tamil vixen was supposed to have released the follow-up to her seminal Arular last month but continues to tease and frustrate me in a way that only she can).

Nonetheless. Both “Kids” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=5bcLWZY7kAQ) and “Crown on the Ground” (www.youtube.com/watch?v=3z8ppcFGPlY) have made it into my mental summer subconscious playlist, each arising at different times, when I’m pumping gas, buying peaches or sniffing my arm pits to check if 90 degree weather in Pagosa Country during June is as much evidence of Global Warming as a January snowstorm in D.C. is a denial.

Earwigs aside, I think Bill Maher spoke for the sane last week on the topic of Global Warming, when he said, “There is no debate here — just scientists vs. non-scientists, and since the topic is science, the non-scientists don’t get a vote.”

Honestly, do you throw your lot in with the 99.9 percent of scientists (who have made a career out of studying the climate) or some pundits denying our climate is changing? As Maher pointed out, “The last decade, year, and month are all the hottest on record.”

Not that I’m indulging in argumentum ad verecundiam but, as Yogi Berra said, “You can look it up.”

As I told a coworker, “We’ll see how negative these morons are against a reservoir when they have a summer when they can’t wash their cars or water their lawns.”

Back to earwigs, in the midst of what looks to be a long, hot summer, I have to say Gorillaz have dominated my ear for some time now.

A few weeks ago, watching the Colbert Report, I wondered if I should flap my lips then about the new Gorillaz album. Having had some time since then and hearing more and more of it, I’ve decided I should tell everyone in Pagosa Country that, if they’re not buying the new Gorillaz CD, they’re lame; like a lamb lying down with a lion and not expecting their throat ripped out.

Whereas Dave Marsh (whom I respect) put himself all the way out there with, “I’ve seen the future of rock and roll…,” (regarding Springsteen), I’ll say that the future of rock, roll, soul, and everything in between has been pointed to with Gorillaz — without doubt or shame.

Gorrilaz started in 1998, the brainchild of Damon Albarn of Britpop band Blur and British cartoonist Jamie Hewlett, co-creator of the comic book Tank Girl.

Eschewing the sense of what a rock band would be — and conceiving of something that might transcend the music might become — Albarn and Hewlett created four members that, for all intents and purposes, were just cartoon characters.

In a concept that would have made Zappa proud, a “virtual band” composed of four animated members — 2D (lead vocalist, keyboard), Murdoc Niccals (bass guitar), Noodle (guitar and occasional vocals) and Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion) — the animated characters are “the band” that performs as much musically as they do on video. Indeed, Gorillaz first broke out with “Clint Eastwood” (youtube.com/watch?v=R3BIEnwqlVM), both on video and a dance tune, with a concept that was as exciting as it was inevitable.

Hewlett’s animation, drawn from the hip-hop repertoire, showed Gorillaz to be a futuristic band of rock and roll seditionaries, guerillaz if you will. Putting cartoon characters front and center instead of rock and roll egos, Gorillaz announced that they would be a band second, a conceptual work of art first and foremost.

A collaboration between various musicians, Albarn being the only permanent member of the band, the video announced the band as being something else, not just players on stage but cartoon characters creating music in the midst of a zombie world — a reality that transcended the whole. Unfortunately, “Clint Eastwood” was the only song on the album that mattered.

The Gorillaz grand experiment seemed to stumble as the decade wore on. A second release, “Demon Days,” amounted to one good single, the fun but (unfortunately) underappreciated “Feel Good, Inc.,” which, should have put Gorillaz out there as one of the great hip-hop bands in the universe.

Like the first album, there was too much filler, a big song and then a dozen or so that didn’t seem to fit the band’s futuristic groove. Despite going double-platinum in the U.S. (and five times platinum in the U.K.), the toss-off singles “Dirty Harry,” “Dare” and “Kids With Guns” didn’t measure up to the promise of “Feel Good, Inc.,” allowing most of the music to be buried beneath the cartoonish cacophony.

Albarn should have known: In Blur’s well-known fight against Oasis, Blur always lost, having maybe one good song against three by Oasis.

Apparently Albarn learned his lesson. “Plastic Beach” (the latest Gorillaz album), beginning with a bit of classical music, moves into a Snoop Dog rap (the title song), giving the listener an indication of where the rest of the album will go, “The revolution WILL be televised,’” he says adding, “Welcome to the world of the Plastic Beach.”

In fact, Plastic Beach is light years beyond Demon Days, both musically and conceptually. Along with Snoop Dogg, the album includes guest appearances by other hip-hop luminaries such as Mos Def, De La Soul, Kano, Bashy, Little Dragon, but also includes punkers such as Mark E. Smith (from The Fall), Mick Jones and Paul Simonon (from The Clash) and Gruff Rhys (from The Super Furry Animals).

However it is a vocal turn by soul legend Bobby Womack on the song “Stylo” that blows the doors off the joint. Described as a “Saturday Night Fever soundtrack cut on MDMA,” I first saw the song performed on The Colbert Report in what was by far the best live performance I’ve seen on that show — or any TV show for that matter, in at least the last several years. The gig was, without hyperbole, hypnotic. Given the quality of the cut, however, it was not surprising that the performance was nothing short of stellar (Colbert seemed, without any apparent irony, genuinely surprised that the song was not performed by cartoon characters).

De La Soul and Rhys make work of the pop diamond “Superfast Jellyfish,” a song that sheds as many colors as any psychedelic masterpiece ever recorded. I submit that, by the end of the summer, you will not be able to dislodge that song from your head — nor will you want to.

Lou Reed takes vocals on “Some Kind of Nature,” providing a rap that seems strangely congruent with his oeuvre; the song feels as if Reed brought it to the project, his sly Gorillaz gift given with the best Brooklynnesque “What?!?!” delivered since Goodfellas.

After Snoop Dog’s rap, the album takes an Arabic groove, Kano and Bashi representing; setting the stage for several of the best songs in this or any other decade.

“Rhinestone Eyes” is, by far, the song from this album that sticks in my ear like a bit of rock, after rolling down a hill, the song I can’t shake no matter how much I try.

“Its part of the noise when winter comes/It reverberates in my lungs/Natures’ corrupted in factories far away/Here we go again/That’s electric/Your loves’ like rhinestones, falling from the sky,”

On first listening, “Rhinestone Eyes” seemed a tepid echo of “Clint Eastwood” but, the more I heard the song (currently in heavy rotation on Sirius XMU), the more it affected me and infected my subconscious. However, unlike other earwigs, its effect is not so much insidious as it is inspirational: When it makes its appearance in my mind, I don’t mind, I smile. I grab as much as I can take.

With symphonic asides by the Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, sinfonia ViVA, and The Lebanese National Orchestra for Oriental Arabic Music, Plastic Beach manages to rise the level of a psychedelic dance masterpiece, a perfect soundtrack for what looks to be a long, hot summer. Long on cool, broad on fun and infinitely danceable, Plastic Beach will take its place as one of the most memorable releases for the summer of 2010, at least in my memory.

If you don’t take your place on the Plastic Beach this summer, you’re missing out on the most fun you’ll have this year.

jim@pagosasun.com