I just listened to the Damon Albarn-scored Monkey: Journey to the West, a soundtrack to the circus/opera of the same name that has been touring the world since last year, and it's utterly amazing.
With conceptual collaboration from Gorillaz illustrator Jamie Hewlett, you would expect nothing more than a little well-worn Gorillaz hybrid territory: hip-hop beats, indie rock sensibilities, eclectic guest singers and rappers, and perhaps a dash of Chinese string instruments to go along with the theme in this case. But the album is so much more than that: orchestral, sweeping, stately, cinematic and majestic; it utilizes authentic Chinese musical stylings and incorporates Mandarin-speaking vocalists. Albarn even went so far as to invent new musical instruments. According to The New Yorker:
While visiting the city of Yinchuan, in Ninzxia Province, Albarn spent an afternoon lying on the floor of his hotel room recording the sound of horns in the street. When he returned to London, he enlisted David Coulter, a multi-instrumentalist and conductor, and the visual artist Gavin Turk to help him build an instrument that plays notes using nothing but the air horns found in cars. The resulting instrument—Albarn calls it a klaxophone—is almost as big as a piano: thirty-six air horns housed in a wood-and-Plexiglas box powered by an air compressor from a dentist’s office and operated by a series of colored buttons and a pink joystick lifted from an arcade game.
The former Britpop poster boy has come quite a long way since he fronted the band Blur back in the '90s. He's since scored film soundtracks, had about a half dozen side projects (Gorillaz; The Good, The Bad & The Queen) and has now helped to create a multimedia opera that may become synonymous with all the Beijing Olympics '08 hype (see the BBC's Hewlett-animated promotional video).
The playlist below highlights some of my favorite Damon Albarn musical inventions, in chronological order, starting with my favorite Blur songs. The last track is from Monkey, called "Heavenly Peach Banquet." And it is just so beautiful and haunting. Enjoy: