Album Review: Damon Albarn - 'The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows'

Damon Albarn should need no introduction. The mastermind behind many succesful musical projects, including 90s britpop titan Blur and experimental alt-rock fantasy Gorillaz, Albarn boasts one of the most diverse and critically acclaimed discographies of any artist, ever. In 2021, Damon has chosen to release under his own name again. The Mic's Maia Gibbs accounts her experience of Damon Albarn's 4th solo album, 'The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows'.

The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows is one of Damon Albarn’s most collaborative and globe-trotting solo works. Released on the 12th of November, the album was recorded all the way from Devon to Uruguay, including contributions from artist’s such as Verve guitarist Simon Tong. The biggest inspiration of all though was undoubtedly Albarn’s love of Iceland. The panoramic views from Albarn’s Scandinavian home had a profound impact on this album, and almost appear as an audible landscape painting.

A product of lockdown, and presumably a lot of staring out the window, the orchestral sounds complete with imagery of the country’s geysers, hot springs, and lava fields it is a truly unique addition to Damon's extensive discography. The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows tests the boundaries of musical genres, instrumentals, and lyricism, but how enjoyable the album is is up for debate.

"There’s a great tenderness to the tracks, Albarn’s lyrics remarking on times and loved ones long gone - It’s an album of aged reflection."

There are few songs here that sound familiar to Albarn’s previous work. He does not rework anything that has bought him his previous commercial success, instead showing off his musically proliferation. Definitely don’t go into this thinking you’re going to get anything like Blur or Gorillaz. This album certainly stands on its own. There’s a feeling throughout of being spiritually lost, which may have lead to this unique musical experimentation. There seems to be a desperate search for conclusion or a message, one of which I am still not quite sure of. It is definitely an album that needs multiple listens.

There’s a great tenderness to the tracks, Albarn’s lyrics remarking on times and loved ones long gone - It’s an album of aged reflection.

I certainly went into the album with a level of trepidation - an album title that is that long either promises something very pretentious or very intelligent. I have my opinion since listening, but I won’t tell you what to think. You’ve got to go into this one with open ears. With this in mind, I decided to do something a little different with this album review. I just wrote as I listened, defining a song simply my my gut reactions. No hypothesising over vague allusions, cultural references, or intellectual showboating. Because at the bare bones of it isn’t music really, just a set of gut reactions.

The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows – ‘Very Icelandic?’ How intuitive of me! I can’t describe how a song sounds icy, but it somehow does. It’s a perfect opening for the album, setting up the mood and feel for this reflective piece. He offers some hints of beautiful lyricism with poetry. “Sweetest leave us, fairest decay” is certainly something that caught my ear, although may become a printout on a teenage girls bedroom. (Which is respectable, but I guess not something he was going for).

The Cormorant – ‘Trying to reach a conclusion. Quite like a mid-life crisis – is that rude to say?’

There’s something familiarly ‘Damon’ about this song, with the layered instrumentation and the classic echoey vocals. The songs never seems to reach a satisfying conclusion, instead leading us to hope to find one in the rest of the album.

"Albarn seems to be in the winter of his music career ... he’s shedding himself ready for his hypothetical spring."

Royal Morning Blue – ‘it feels like floating.’ The track starts with a chiming slowness, slowing building to a buzzing liveliness. It is the most recognisable to Albarn’s other works out of the entire album. His warble of ‘nothing like this ever happens’ sounds very reminiscent to that of End of a Century or Tracy Jacks. It’s quite nostalgic in that sense, as even though it first appears like an album of reflection it is also one of continuation.

Combustion – ‘I mean it certainly does sound like a combustion, as in the opening 30 seconds scared the **** out of me. Ooo synthy-rocky thudding. I’m waiting for the next cool thing to happen. Now a piano? I’m on the edge of my seat to see what happens. It’s ended?’ That was the initial thoughts. And those are still the thoughts I’m afraid.

Daft Wander – ‘I did just read that as Darth Vader’ It sounds very nostalgic; the soft piano is comforting in its familiarity. Like The Nearer The Fountain, More Pure The Stream Flows it reminds me of snow. And again I still don’t know how to explain that. Albarn seems to be in the winter of his music career. Not to say that’s it’s over, but he’s shedding himself ready for his hypothetical spring.

I do understand that was quite a convoluted metaphor even for me.

Darkness to Light - ‘This is one of my favourites so far.’ Darkness to Light is feels very romantic, and I’m not quite sure if that’s just because it has rain in the background. But that’s enough for me even so. It didn’t take as much work to listen to like the previous songs and was consoling in that aspect.

Esja – ‘Quite scary again.’ This is another purely instrumental track. They are meticulously placed throughout the album, arriving when you least expect it. They often offer great highs to the previous songs’ comforting lows or calming tranquillity to the more up-beat numbers. Their inclusion seems so overly purposeful that I can’t help but to overthink why. It does make you cherish his vocals on the rest of the album. Take that as you will.

The Tower of Montevideo – ‘No this is my favourite.’ Albarn melds with genres with this bluesy track, his vocals booming over a concoction of instrumentation and effects. It is definitely the most upbeat song on the album and placed perfectly to pick us up from the more emotionally draining moments.

"Albarn’s vocals are beautiful on this track, the instrumentation, experimental and musical inspirations melting into one another."

Track Nine: Giraffe Trumpet Sea – ‘It sounds like squelchy wellies and running in the rain. Purely instrumental. This one less scary’

Polaris – ‘Oh no it’s scary again. Oh no now its jolly. What instrument even is that? Oooo a male choir? - That’s fun.’

Particles – ‘Those sound-like bubbles. I need a wee.’ Albarn’s vocals are beautiful on this track, the instrumentation, experimental and musical inspirations melting into one another. I noticed the tiniest of intricacies here, noting every arrangement and reflecting on its loveliness.

It was a perfect conclusion to an album which I admit challenged me. It was certainly different, and that is hard to find in modern music. Despite its admittedly low points, Albarn caught my attention. He made me focus on things I normally wouldn’t. I was immersed. Maybe that’s what the album is trying to show? Note the small intricacies of things. Take time to look.

Written by: Maia Gibbs

Edited by: Elliot Fox

In article images courtesy of Damon Albarn via Facebook. Video courtesy of Damon Albarn via YouTube.