By Katie Zaborksy

Gorillaz

The Fall

Virgin/EMI Records

Ever since the Apple iPad’s entry into mainstream technology last year, tech geeks and commoners alike have been arguing over its necessity and efficiency—is it just a cumbersome iPod Touch, or is it a portable, user-friendly laptop?  Gorillaz frontman Damon Albarn put its utility to the test, recording a new album entirely on his iPad during the group’s 2010 tour. Understandably minimal, The Fall is not just an experiment in physical production, but also a major departure from the energetic, collaboration-heavy tracks of the band’s last few albums.

Evidenced by track titles like “Phoner to Arizona” and “The Snake in Dallas,” The Fall documents the North American leg of Gorillaz’s Escape to Plastic Beach world tour.  The music mimics a visual tour of the U.S. landscape, not all of which is stunning—the songs range in quality from stellar to humdrum. Ethereal and meandering soundscapes are the status quo, serving as a constant backdrop for frenetic bursts of electronica, hip-hop and even forays into country music and yodeling.

“The Speak It Mountains” opens with an apocalyptic dialogue that sounds like it was lifted from a bad sci-fi movie, only to continue with sparse instrumentals while a shapeless voice counts to seven. The ominous mood then transforms  into the lighter “Aspen Forest,” which evokes a walk through the woods while a UFO flies overhead. The Fall constitutes a playful venture out of the studio that affords Albarn the chance to express some more spontaneous creative instincts.

Though the album has been available for digital download since December, it was only released in physical form this Monday, a move that almost seems inappropriate given its gimmicky conception. The album is something of a lackluster outlier among their prior work, and plays more like an inside joke than a serious endeavor. This might work better as a tour DVD with commentary and documentary footage. As it stands, The Fall can’t escape the sentiment of, “Dude, you had to be there.”