When Albarn was younger, his mother gave him a book of 19th-century poet John Clare. Years later, he revisited Love and Memory, underlining “ . . . the nearer the fountain, more pure the stream flows”.
Nature has often been a wellspring of inspiration for artists; shapeshifting and mysterious, it can hold a mirror to human nature, something Albarn does deftly here, stopping to marvel at Iceland’s landscapes (Esja), with a stopover in Uruguay (The Tower of Montevideo).
The title song lifts us from one place and leaves us in another, much like the body of water it references. That drifty sound prefaces The Cormorant, with its soft bossa nova influences, and Albarn’s ragged yet masterful vocal, reminiscent of late Bowie with its elegant elegiac quality.
Amid the elegies, there are moments of up-tempo joy – Royal Morning Blue with its playful brass is a musical exhale, as if Albarn is letting something go, met in tone by Polaris, which conjures up dappled light and raves. And this record is a conjuring – wonky discordance on the piano-led Combustion, nostalgia on Daft Wader, and what sounds like a pepper-grinder on Giraffe Trumpet Sea.
Particles returns us to the idea that the seeds of the end have been sewn in the beginning, but while Albarn sings “I will drift away from land as the sky begins its birth” he’s never sounded more undaunted.