Damon Albarn

The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows

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The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Damon Albarn conceived The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows -- his second solo album, arriving seven years after Everyday Robots -- as an orchestral ode to his adopted homeland of Iceland. Albarn's plans were scuppered by the COVID-19 pandemic, so he altered his approach, adapting and altering the material he wrote in Iceland in January 2020 with the aid of two longtime collaborators: Simon Tong, the guitarist in the Good, the Bad & the Queen, and Mike Smith, an auxiliary player in both Blur and Gorillaz. The Nearer the Fountain retains some of the airy atmosphere of an orchestral piece, yet it's untethered to the ground. As it floats in the slipstream, the album shifts its shape, sometime luxuriating in open spaces, sometimes snapping in focus thanks to a pronounced beat or shimmering wash of analog keyboards. The open sonic vistas owe a debt to Albarn's abiding love of Iceland, a devotion which manifests itself through aural ambience and lyrics where isolation intertwines environmental decay. As he often delivers his lines with little more than a slight murmur -- the title phrase, taken from a John Clare poem, recurs throughout the album -- the emphasis is on the music, not the words. Unhurried and stark without being austere, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows seems suspended from time but not place: as misty and evocative as it is, the music is grounded in a specific location, which gives this elegiac, enveloping album an emotional weight.

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