Damon Albarn – The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows
Before lockdown, Damon Albarn was in Iceland, following an approach from Lyon’s prestigious Fête des Lumieres to premiere an open commission, a blank brief. Ever since he sought sanctuary there at the height of his fame with Blur, Albarn wanted to reciprocate the love that Reykjavik’s artistic community had shown him: “It was something I had fantasised about for years,” he explains, “Just looking out the window, at Mount Esja and the sea, and in the distance, on a clear day, you can see Snæfellsjökull, which is the glacier and volcano that was the centrepiece of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. I just thought it would be wonderful to chart the movement of the weather and the way it shapes the scenery over a period of time.”
The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows has the feel of a journey, effortlessly taking the listener though different genres and ideas to a soothing place. The album opens with the title track taken from Romantic poet John Clare’s meditation on life and loss, Love and Memory. As always, Albarn’s references are led by the heart. The poem and its text are woven throughout, the lyrics paying homage to those of the wordsmith. The unexpected, archaic phrasing of the title serves as a meditation, making the listener slow down and consider what the words actually mean.
Icelandic scenery and its capricious topography are cleverly felt in the fabric of the album. Esja, named after a volcanic mountain range in the South West of the country, sublimely recalls the modern classical music of Estonian minimalist composer Arvo Part.
For The Tower of Montevideo Albarn imagined himself and longtime collaborators Simon Tong and Mike Smith as the house band on a “ghost cruise ship, alighting in South America, taking in the crumbling grandiosity of the famous Argentinean hotels and ballrooms designed by the Italian architect Mario Palanti.” The sinuous bossa nova of the track is as bewitching the inspiration suggests.
There are other textures to the album: Combustion is a bananas sax interlude played by Smith. There is twinkling piano on Daft Wader. Albarn uses his vintage 1950s drum machine and Elka space organ to add an ethereal mist over proceedings. There’s enough inspiration here to immerse oneself in. Albarn said that he was thinking about the North Star in the creation of the album: “In Iceland, when a storm comes in, birds get separated a lot, but in the end, they always find each other. It felt like that was true to what we were going through as well.”
This feels like a delicate love letter to human frailty and hope.
The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows is released on 12th November 2021. For further information or to order the album visit Damon Albarn’s website here.
Watch the video for the single The Tower of Montevideo here: