It would be churlish to expect a considered album in the vein of Demon Days or Plastic Beach, and so Damon Albarn hasn't even attempted anything so polished or thought-through here.
Indeed, given the gruelling everyday logistics of an American tour, it's outrageous to even consider recording an album of new material on the spot as a kind of audio diary, one track to each town, from Montreal and the Eastern seaboard through the midwest to Texas and over to the West Coast. When, one wonders, did he sleep?
It's a typically cutting-edge endeavour, recorded on an iPad with a core instrumental armoury of keyboards, omnichord, ukulele and guitar, and a slew of apps whose names – SoundyThingy, iOrgel HD, Dub Siren Pro, etc – give few clues to their effects. As you'd expect, it relies heavily on programmed beats of spare simplicity, and layered dubstep synth riffs over which Albarn sketches his impressions of life on the road, be they as mundane as "little pink plastic bags blowing down the highway", or as poetic as "the pinks and blues of Houston in the sun... where home is a bus, the parish of space dust, and today is golden".
The album sidles sideways into earshot with the simple electro lockstep figure and heavily vocodered vocal melody line of "Phoner to Arizona", before the plaintive ukulele and prancing synth buzz of "Revolving Doors" finds the singer at a reflective loose end: "On a foggy day in Boston, I sit in a diner, and The Beatles play". The twitchy offbeat electronic instrumental "Detroit" may be an homage to that city's techno heritage; though what the nightmarish, crazed modulations and cavernous tread of "The Joplin Spider" says about the famous "Route 66" location is perhaps less flattering; likewise the sinister synth instrumental "The Snake in Dallas".
"Parish of Space Dust", in which random radio-tuned snatches of Spike Jones, Glen Campbell and Brooks & Dunn preface a glorious sunrise synth glow, is one of the more appealing pieces, while the toot-toot of a toy train fanfares the album's most epic, widescreen soundscapes in "Amarillo", Albarn getting "lost on a highway" trying to "put a little love into my lonely soul". "Aspen Forest" is by contrast too methodical, until redeemed by the closing few seconds of sparkling, zither-like Quran; but it's remarkable how the iconic presence of Bobby Womack – that majestic voice, those soulful guitar flourishes – imposes a completeness to the extemporised "Bobby in Phoenix", equalled by few of the other tracks.
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