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Danger Mouse and Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn create new sounds

It's no coincidence that Damon Albarn and DJ Danger Mouse are both releasing paisley-crazy new records Tuesday. Formerly with Blur, the British Albarn is the chief prankster behind animated zombie rockers Gorillaz, a head-swiveling multimedia ensemble that now features Snoop Dogg, Bobby Womack, Lou Reed and Mos Def. Taking a breather from Gnarls Barkley, the American Danger Mouse is moonlighting in yet another side project, Broken Bells, which also stars Shins heart-sleever James Mercer.

Albarn and Danger Mouse have worked together in the past: on the Gorillaz album Demon Days (featuring iTunes smash Feel Good Inc.) and in a Gorillaz spinoff called the Good, the Bad and the Queen. Don't try to keep up with all the hep band names. Just let it be known that Albarn, 41, and Danger Mouse (a.k.a. Brian Burton, 32) are two peas in an art-bubblegum pod, more than willing to destroy previous models in order to build new popstrosities for ear and brain.

They may not be together this time, but they very much have each other in mind.

Plastic Beach, the new Gorillaz disc, is the more avant-garde project. But for all its trippery — not to mention conceptual indictment of our polluted culture — it's also more fun. Look no further than the song (or songlike thingie) Superfast Jellyfish, a delirious dig at our need for convenience. Featuring alt-rap group De La Soul, it's like SpongeBob for grownups, the most fun you can have scratching your head in confusion. First single Stylo is the Knight Rider theme on LSD. And On Melancholy Hill, featuring Albarn's bittersweet vocal, is a breezy bit of '80s New Wave. The found sounds are head-spinning, from orchestral swells to game-show prattle to karate-flick funk, and you can't help but think that Albarn is calling out to Danger Mouse: Top this, buddy.

As for the DJ, who famously got us going Crazy for Gnarls Barkley, he's in a calmer, more contemplative mood. Whereas Gnarls singer Cee-Lo Green was a soulful, robust mouthpiece for Danger Mouse's vision, Mercer is cerebral, quiet. He's also hunkier. The Shins were made indie-famous on the soundtrack for Zach Braff's Garden State; considering Mercer's swoon appeal, this might be Danger Mouse's most romantic record yet. As Mercer makes for a more distant version of Chris Martin's Coldplay, Danger Mouse summons choral swells and electro-burbles (The High Road), neo-Stax organs and muted horns (Vaporize). He has left his doctor's bag of insanity behind. "The longer we wait around / The faster the years go by," Mercer laments as his beat-man tries to inspire us into action with a somber sea of music. Broken Bells is a sneakily beautiful duo, and rest assured Danger Mouse is firing right back at Albarn: You don't have to be crazy to be good.

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The Oscars Playlist

I’m a freak for movie music, especially big, thumpy orchestral scores, which always make my not-so-thumpy life seem (or at least sound) more exciting. When I tune in for tonight's Academy Awards — and I'll watch every star-bloated second, even though Monday morning I'll be a half-lidded beast — I'll spend more time running to iTunes than Netflix. The best of this year's nominated scores is Michael Giacchino's work in Up; it's weepy yet rousing, music for flying houses and second chances. The Oscars will also dust off scores from the past, including, I'm sure, a few on the following playlist. These are my faves, all effectively mood-juicing. Thomas Newman's Shawshank Redemption strings are sublime. Same with Paul Haslinger's ambient gauze for The Girl Next Door. For the sake of playlist ease, I listed the movie's title and the composer (The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams) rather than individual pieces (The Imperial March a.k.a. Darth Vader's strutting music). If you need specifics, shoot me a note at Happy Oscars!

1 The Family Man, Danny Elfman

2Local Hero, Mark Knopfler

3 Witness, Maurice Jarre

4 Silverado, Bruce Broughton

5 The Shawshank Redemption, Thomas Newman

6 The Sting, Marvin Hamlisch, Scott Joplin

7 The Girl Next Door, Paul Haslinger

8 The American President, Marc Shaiman

9 The Empire Strikes Back, John Williams

10 The Natural, Randy Newman

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Benny Andersson Band

Album: Story of a Heart (Decca)

In stores: Now

I have issues: I'm going to invite you into my sad, twisted head for a second. Like most pop music critics, I have thousands of albums at home. Unlike most pop music critics, I don't have any ABBA. This isn't because I don't like ABBA; I'll boogie to the Swedes' Dancing Queen as much as the next groomsman. It's just that I love AC/DC more. And in my alphabetized CD chamber at the Daly manse, I'm just not comfortable with any artist coming before AC/DC — as ABBA most certainly would. Now, I know what you're thinking: Just put ABBA second, Psycho Boy. Can't do it. That would be wrong, too. However, I can safely have the Benny Andersson Band in my collection! The former ABBA star has just released a silly, totally loopy U.S. compilation of his orkester's polka, pop and waltzes. It's weird and silly; the synths get mired in a thick Stockholm fontina. But if you need an ABBA fix (or, like me, an ABBA substitute), it's pretty good. Plus the title track, cowritten with old mate Bjorn Ulvaeus, is time-travel-esque, The Winner Takes It All Again.

Download these: Trolska and Story of a Heart

Grade: B

What about

'St. Elmo's Fire'?

On a special Stuck in the '80s podcast, Sean Daly, film critic Steve Persall and editor Steve Spears weigh in on the best movie scores of that magical decade. Go to to hear the show.

Danger Mouse and Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn create new sounds 03/06/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 5, 2010 10:04pm]
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