The view from the living room of Damon Albarn’s home near Reykjavik is striking. Beyond the black-sand beaches and North Atlantic water, Esja, a volcanic mountain range, cuts across the skyline. Around it, the Icelandic weather regularly puts on a show. “It’s always extreme there,” Albarn tells. “It doesn’t exist in a meteorological platitude.” Toward the end of 2019, Albarn gathered an orchestral ensemble to sit at his window and chart the landscape, wildlife, and climate in music. Three sessions were recorded before the pandemic stalled the project. Relocating to his UK home in Devon, Albarn found he just couldn’t let those musical improvisations lie dormant until lockdown loosened. “They were such a strong thing,” he says. “It’s like a potion—I kept taking the cork top off to sip for a minute, maybe just smell it. At one point, I was like, ‘I’m just going to drink this now and use it to do something.’ So, I did like Asterix, and I made The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows.”
Assisted by longtime collaborators Mike Smith and Simon Tong, Albarn transformed the music into his second solo album—11 unhurried reflections on loss and fragility. “The fragility is the humans’ place within nature,” he says. “And the loss is the transferal of everything. Nothing’s lost. The thing changes, it doesn’t actually disappear—it just has a different state or form.” With its vivid sense of place and transformation, the record recalls two of Albarn’s recent projects: Gorillaz’s Meanwhile EP and The Good, the Bad & the Queen’s Merrie Land. “The older you get, depending on your circumstance, the more acutely you feel these things,” he says. “I’m making music for young people at a rather advanced age for someone making music for young people. People of my own age, it’s kind of, ‘Yeah, well, that’s how I feel as well.’ Whereas for younger people, it’s like, ‘Well, that’s a strong flavor,’ but it’s not a bad thing.” Here, he takes us through the album, track by track.