Jimi Edition: My Top 5 Albums Define My Life: #2 Demon Days

For the next few weeks, Yung Haaaaahn and I will take a look at our favorite albums and deliver some short stories surrounding our journey with them. We don’t want to just list our top albums, without properly contextualizing them and really giving them the attention they deserve. Some of the post will include humorous anecdotes, while others will focus on serious emotional breakthroughs; either way, you will learn more about us and the music that provided the soundtrack to many of the memorable moments in our lives. We hope you enjoy and stay for the ride, it should be interesting.

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On a chilly November afternoon, my little eighth grade mind was about to be blown away. It had to be a Wednesday, because my parents weren’t home and I wasn’t afraid to unlock the music channels on the family television downstairs (my father was a pastor and my mother was a principal, they haven’t written a book describing this level of sheltered yet), which meant I was tuned in like an addict. Whenever I had the chance, I would watch hours of music videos or the strange reality shows, in an attempt to catch up on lost time.

Fuse dominated this particular session, flooding my tiny naive eyes with images of alternative rock and pop stars, raging against some imaginary man, fueling the bubbling suburban angst in my heart. In the midst of a marathon of perfect looking white, poorly trained teenage musicians, a mind boggling cartoon appeared on the screen. Featuring a green skeezy looking bass player, a melodramatic blue haired front man, a mysterious little girl strumming the guitar, and an overweight black drummer. Then out of nowhere, the dudes from De La Soul seemingly materialized out of nowhere, on some Space Jam stuff. I was totally confused…

…I loved every second of it.

I immediately went to search it out, which was tough because this was before Youtube got big for music videos (there were some strange clips on there already, but nobody had ventured that far yet). After a few hours, I accepted defeat and knew that the only way to see this amazing visual again, would be to catch it on rotation. I was lucky a few times, but after a few weeks, I moved on.

Unbeknownst to me, the entire time I was tirelessly searching for the video, the band was blowing up; celebrating their first real crossover super hit. I honestly thought I was alone, like it was my little secret; that bubble was unceremoniously burst on the bus coming home from school one day, when I recognized the lyrics being sung by my friend, who abhorred rock music. I was shocked, totally bewildered. A close friend of mine brought them up when we were in Church, confessing his love from the group. “Was this band mainstream,” I thought to myself. “I hate everything mainstream, can I even listen to them?”

As foolish as it sounds, Eighth grade Jimi was an overly anti-establishment prick, who would deny his own pleasure in order to stand against the grain. I pushed the video and the band as far from my conscious as I could, which wasn’t that far. My idiotic stance against them lasted for about a year, when, on another fateful afternoon, the video came back on and reminded me of how much I truly loved it.

So, I decided to just give in and to give the rest of their material a try. I went upstairs and logged onto the computer, started up the good ole Limewire and opened the album’s Wikipedia page (after a number of terrible downloading results, I developed a strategy to always get the right song, in the right order, it was still tedious though). I knew the single would be easy to find and would download quickly, “Feel Good Inc (iTunes version)” was the first result, crisp and clean. The rest were a different story, but an hour or two later, I had them all, properly sequenced in my iTunes library. I burned them onto a cd (I got an iPod the following year), went into my room, laid on my bed and began to listen.

An hour later, I emerged from my sweaty hormone filled cave a changed man. My eyes and, more importantly, my ears had gone through a dramatic shift that would have lasting implications. Even then I knew that the music I had grown to love previously was inadequate, they couldn’t measure up to what The Gorillaz had done on Demon Days. My never ending quest for alternative hip hop/trip hop that could match their sound, began that evening. While it has led me to some great new music, it has become painfully obvious that this might be a foolish goal.

Where and how do you begin to even describe this Demon Days album. Damon Albarn’s incredible vocals that seem to perfectly adapt to every situation or his insanely talented musicianship, especially incorporating the strange sounds of atypical instrumentation. Perhaps we can discuss Danger Mouse’s extraordinary production skills, helping to craft a complete body of work that is cohesive, yet varied at the same time. No matter what though, we should mention Jamie Hewlett, whose art direction immediately capture my mind and forever burned itself onto my memory.

I was equally into anime and manga at that time, so something incorporating a cartoon and music was right down my alley. It was clear that they didn’t skimp on the art budget at all, just take a look at the “Dare” video. All of the characters had a whimsically cool air to them, like I should have been repulsed by Murdoc, but I thought he was the most awesome bassist on the planet. Demon Days artwork was magnificent, with each character stoically looking off into the distance. It was serious and beautiful; I would spend many mornings just staring at the album cover while listening, on my way to school (once I got that iPod).

Musically, it was on a whole different plane of existence from what I was use to. I liked rap, I liked rock, them together…not so much (even though Papercut Chronicles was the first rap album I purchased). “Feel Good Inc.”, “Dirty Harry”, and “November Has Come” knocked me right on my behind, totally shattering my preconceived notions. I didn’t know whether this was a rap album or a strange rock album, but I loved it. Each beat was unique; close enough to hip hop to sound modern, but also far away enough to be totally loose and experimental. Songs like “White Light” or “Every Planet We Reach Is Dead” defy classification, I loved it.

“Kids with Guns” contains, possibly, one of the greatest drops in musical history. When that guitar seems to commit seppuku and that drummer goes maniac on those cymbals, explosions begin to happen in my brain. Then he lays down the smoothest head nodding groove, with a muffled kick drum and snapping snare, as the other musicians literally lose their minds on their instruments. It is epic in every sense of the word, and kept me coming back for more and more.

I say a lot of songs are my favorite, but I do actually have a list in my mind and “El Manana” is one of them. Easily one of the most heart wrenchingly gorgeous tracks that my young self had heard up to then, it blew me away. I nearly teared up the first time I heard it, and I still do. It is one of those croon your heart away songs, the one you sing along with when something bad has happened. Yet, it just sounds so beautiful that you have to come back to it, even when you are feeling great.

What forever sealed the deal for me, was the conclusion of the album. “Don’t Get Lost In Heaven” and “Demon Days” are beyond everything. To have an project filled with experimentation, to go through so many genre changes through the previous tracks, and to end it in the most traditional way was genius. The choir sings beautifully and took me back to church (which was pretty easy because I had just left, remember my dad was the pastor). The reggae transition in “Demon Days” just makes you feel so happy, which is necessary after having survived the dark, eerie album. For about three years, I started my day with these two songs; a constant reminder to appreciate the little things around me and a little taste of serenity. (You have to see them performed lived, it will change your life.)

Demon Days means a lot to me, and it has found a way to stick with me throughout the years. I have listened to this album once through almost once a month, each time it feels like I just discovered it. While I haven’t been able to find an album that incorporates from so many different sources, it did point me into a great direction musically. My passion for electronic British music started thanks to this album, as well as my eclectic taste for alternative styles. After listening, I was much more open to various styles of hip hop, mostly weird alternative stuff. Its been close to ten years since then, but I still get just as excited about the Gorillaz and Demon Days as I did back then, which is wonderful…

…and I love every second of it.

Jimi (@Nativejimi)

P.S. Yo Fern Fern remember that night we went to the Gorillaz’ concert, life changing….

P.P.S. Yo Cynthia, I know you remember that night we went to the Gorillaz’ concert and got those dope shirts…life changing

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