Given Damon Albarn’s résumé, it should be no surprise that he’s made an opera soundtrack. Perhaps, though, that the opera is based on Chinese legend. For the production of the stage version of an all-time classic Chinese novel, Journey to the West, Albarn created 22-track mini epic played by Chinese artists. Monkey: Journey to the West is an effects-soaked look into China’s musical past that tells the tale with highly dramatic instrumentation and a wide array of vocal deliveries.
Albarn forges a stunning variety of elements to express a story of such epic proportions. Sweeping strings and cloud-level brass instruments regularly melt together with modern electronics and synthetic effects. The shimmering “The Living Sea” is the most delicate moment and deeply contrasts the striking heaviness of “Battle in Heaven” and “March of the Iron Army”. Meanwhile, tracks like the electronic bubble-maker “Out of the Eastern Sea” and “I Love Buddha” are on the digitized, curious side.
It’s a monumental task to create the music for an opera – especially in this day and age. Albarn further expands on his broad musical talent to not only beautifully tell Monkey: Journey to the West, but essentially does so a foreign language.