“Plastic Beach” was a big deal in 2010. It was Gorillaz’s comeback after a five year disappearance after “Demon Days”, and the commotion for its arrival began once the first single “Stylo” featuring the late Bobby Womack and Mos Def in January of that year. You got the sense that something big was coming. It eventually did in March with sixteen tracks (and a few others if you ordered on iTunes or live in Japan) and a great amount of guests varying from Snoop Dogg to Mick Jones and Paul Simonon of The Clash. “Plastic Beach” was good. It still is. Probably my favourite album of the group.
“Empire Ants” comes from that album and features the vocals of Yukimi Nagano, singer from the Swedish electronic band Little Dragon. Now before I actually heard “Plastic Beach” in full, I decided to go online to YouTube and search it for a reason that I can’t think of thinking about it now. But when I did, there was this guy who had heard it (the channel was GD Entertainment or something like that; the channel’s gone now) reviewed each track and noted “Empire Ants” as being one of the album’s highlights.
Why was that? Just because it does one of those things where it sends the listener in one direction for about half of its duration before taking a sudden turn and going down a different route…. like “The Chain” by Fleetwood Mac or “2+2=5” by Radiohead. For the first half, Damon Albarn sings about the joy of the taking pleasure in the sun’s arrival amongst a wave of calming noises and acoustic guitar. Very beautiful. It’s the perfect type of music to listen on a beach, gazing at the sea as the sun sets. Then a disturbing, almost distorted synthesizer signifies the abrupt change where the funky beat kicks in and Nagano takes over on the singing. At this point the red sky as drastically turned black, the stars are shooting across the sky and the tidal waves are coming in. The whole song is sick, but that second half is too much.