ALBUM REVIEW: CHILDISH GAMBINO – “AWAKEN, MY LOVE!”

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Copyright 2016 Glassnote Records

Connor Harlan, Editor-in-Chief

As per usual with music being released in 2016, the internet and music world at large have taken it upon themselves voraciously devour an album leak and stridently deliver their diverse wash of opinions on Donald Glover a.k.a. Childish Gambino’s record, “Awaken, My Love!” that was officially released today. Glover has been a polarizing figure in hip-hop and many have found his approach to the genre to be tasteless, his lyrics entitled, and his vocals to be quite grating. It seemed that after he announced the record and delivered a handful of singles, the online music landscape saw a sea change in their opinions on Childish Gambino’s music, with plenty of good reason. First of all, the singles were undeniably fantastic. “Me and Your Mama” took a monstrously ambitious approach in how it takes time to fully hatch into the energetic and razor sharp funk-rock jam that it is. The production is especially impressive, with driving drums underneath a wall of brittle and overdriven guitar leads. Glover wastes no time using this song as the first in the track listing, providing not only a tone setter, but also a quick sucker punch that starts the record out strong. The good news is that the record mostly maintains this strength throughout, but the potholes on it stick out like a sore thumb. The album’s best moments are when it gets generously nostalgic, all the while keeping its edge. The song “Boogieman” takes a page from the Sly and the Family Stone playbook, treading across its fiery guitar driven passages and hot background vocals. The production we saw on “Me and Your Mama” is present on the whole album, and is easily the best thing about “Awaken, My Love!” “Redbone,” the second single leading up to the record’s release, eases up on the aggression and harkens back to a more soulful approach, specifically that of neo-soul artists like D’Angelo. The pitch shifted and chorus-laden vocals on this track play out well in Glover’s favor, and his lyrics add a strong vague and eerie vibe to the track. This dynamic plays out on most of the tracks, giving the album an overall darker tone. Sadly, the album reaches its first snag rather early in the track listing, with the second track “Have Some Love” borrowing liberally from a Funkadelic song, “Can You Get to That?” The acoustic guitar melody is almost identical, and the gospel style choir vocals take their cadence straight out of the aforementioned song. It reads less like a love letter and more like a textbook reading of how nostalgia isn’t always a good thing. Worse still, Donald’s attempts at left hooks don’t pan out tastefully, especially on the unbearable “California.” The track breaks up the atmosphere of the album with a weak tune that sounds like Drake’s attempts at dancehall songs on “VIEWS.” Glover’s vocal inflection is downright annoying, and the auto-tune adds no charms at all. The closer, “Stand Tall,” is another disappointing dud that wastes a chance at an explosive final hurrah in favor of a cheesy soul-laden ballad with some of the worst lyrics on the album. That being said, the record’s highlights still make themselves apparent. “Baby Boy” is straight vintage Motown-inspired soul that slides smoothly and has beautiful transitions throughout its six-and-a-half minute runtime. “Awaken, My Love!” has a purpose and has something to say, much like the albums of the 60s and 70s that it takes much of its influence from, but is a record that has its flaws. Still, I found a great deal to love about the eccentricity of the songwriting and darker production style that lends itself beautifully to the album. A MINUS