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Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Jan 10, 2017.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from chorus.fm for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    It’s been one month since Donald Glover (as Childish Gambino) released his third studio LP, ”Awaken, My Love!”, and surely, that’s enough time to have analyzed it. But this is a tough one. My initial reaction was negative. ”Awaken, My Love!” felt forced, a career’s worth of artistic evolution crammed into one record obsessed with showcasing the new Donald Glover. No longer is he the nerdy optimist with a case of “nice guy syndrome,” his raps filled with more punchlines than his stand-up sets. If 2013’s Because the Internet marked the beginning of a transitional phase for the artist, Glover’s new era of success is defined by even more self-seriousness found in everything from his interviews and his music to his first television show on FX. It’s a self-seriousness that very well may have landed him the role as Lando Calrissian in an upcoming Star Wars film.

    It’s easy to look at all of this and roll your eyes at the change in his public persona – sometimes, I still do – but the fact of the matter is, he’s earned it. Everything Glover does is fueled by Kanye-sized ambition, and if he’s ever going to fail, have no doubt that he will fail boldly (a fact reinforced by this album’s epic closing statement, “Stand Tall”). And perhaps this is why, despite hardly liking ”Awaken, My Love!” at first, I kept coming back to it. And perhaps this is also why, a month later, I am finally writing this review to say that my perception has shifted. ”Awaken, My Love!” isn’t a perfect album, but its commitment to vision make it an essential component of Glover’s eclectic resume..

    Let’s start with what doesn’t work. ”Awaken, My Love!” is anything but flat, and its songs cannot simply be sorted into “the good” and “the bad.” They’re in a constant state of motion, continually changing gears and rearranging themselves with the energy of a living organism. The result is good (or bad) songs with elements that contradict their apparent quality. “Boogieman,” for example, is one of the only tracks here without lyrical blunder. It expertly details the kind of paranoia the black community faces daily at the hands of law enforcement, making it one of the most lucid tracks here. Unfortunately, its verses are subjected to one of the most out-of-place vocal effects utilized by Glover on the album. His inflection is not enough to take away from the relevance of the song, but it is distracting.

    And for the most part, vocal inflection is the album’s weakest component. Glover’s fans know he can sing well, so why he feels the need to distort his voice every time a track changes directions is a bit of a headscratcher. Lyrical flubs are nothing new to Glover, and though they are less abundant here than in the past, the maturation of everything else (and the fact that they’re no longer punchlines) makes them even more noticeable here (“Please don’t think I’m rude/But I don’t eat fast food/So don’t run to me”). On “Have Some Love,” Glover channels Funkadelic to convey an admirable sentiment with about as much depth as a vintage Dr. Pepper jingle. But none of this comes close to “California,” a baffling throwaway track that makes several references to California livin’ and Vine (yes, the social media platform) of all things under thick layers of vocoder and grating, cartoonish sound effects. It is a low point at the center of an album that otherwise, despite requiring repeat listens, does in fact have something to say.

    When the album does work, it ranges from “pleasant” to “absolutely gripping.” “Me and Your Mama” is a career highlight, building from its lullabye-like introduction and bursting at the seams with passion and raw energy. Here, on the first track of his first album in three years, is the time for Glover to showcase his new artistic vision, and he does so almost too successfully – nothing quite stands up to the track until the album’s midpoint rolls around. Paranoia is a common theme throughout the album, with at least half of the songs containing some variation of the phrase “I’m gonna get ya!” But the album’s back half is decidedly less aggressive and finds Glover truly coming into his own. “Redbone” is an impressive vocal achievement for the artist with an impossibly catchy slap-bass line and twinkling keys that ultimately compliment the song’s call to “Stay woke!” Instrumentally, “Terrified” and “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” represent two mood extremes on the album, the former harboring murky synths and fearful imagery while the other’s lush guitar tones and vocalization represent love and romance in its purest state. But nothing quite stands up to the album’s opening and closing numbers like “Baby Boy,” a downtempo R&B number meant explicitly for Glover’s newborn son. Its sentiment basically boils down to Glover’s personal take on “You Are My Sunshine,” but it’s likely the most genuine and vulnerable Glover has ever sounded on record.

    So decidedly, ”Awaken, My Love!” is a mixed bag, and you may wonder why it took me a month to reach that conclusion. After all, I suspect I knew this along, even amongst my most forward and immediate reactions to the album. The fact is, sometimes, what we want and what we get are two separate things. I recognized Glover’s ambition and even praised his decision to switch genres on paper, but his apparent inability to stay in one place for too long felt ingenuine to me, like a performer rushing to switch costumes in between acts. But I now believe that Glover knows what he wants to say; he just isn’t quite sure how to say it yet. In Chuck Klosterman’s new book, “But What if We’re Wrong?,” he asserts that we cannot accurately predict the future without viewing through the lens the past; thus, we cannot accurately predict the artist that will be synonymous with any genre or aesthetic until we’re viewing it in hindsight. But something tells me Glover follows a different philosophy. Love it or hate it, Glover continues to forge his own path towards stardom, and it doesn’t take another recap of his resume to tell that he doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.

     
  2. noKings

    Regular

    Yessss. Much better than last effort in my opinion.

    Side note. Shout out to the album cover appearing in an episode of Atlanta... Juneteenth ya'll.
     
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  3. tdlyon

    Pawnee Forever Supporter

    I love this album, like most things Donald does, and while I don't necessarily agree with some of the negative points made (I actually like California lol), this is a fantastic review, great read

    Though it doesn't really make the lyric any better, the line from Terrified is actually "don't run too fast", not "don't run to me"
     
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  4. Aaron Mook Jan 10, 2017
    (Last edited: Jan 10, 2017)
    I touched upon this a little bit in my Best of 2016 blog post, but I was dealing with a lot over the past few months that hindered my ability to write often and with confidence, especially considering the shifting landscape of music journalism and the purpose of album reviews today vs. 30 years ago. I never want to write an "empty" review that fails to offer some sort of insight or observation that others might find interesting (and oftentimes, I look back on my writing and worry that's the case), but after finishing this review, for the first time in a long time, I actually felt like I had something to say. Despite my conclusions and how long it took me to reach them, I needed to take some time to remind myself that we are all consistently improving and that there is plenty of potential for where my writing could go in the future. I feel reinvigorated and excited to continue writing album reviews this year.

    So I guess I just want to thank you all in advance for taking the time to read and support the things I contribute to this site. Having this platform still feels so wild and exciting to me, and I want to better utilize it to offer the most quality content possible at all times in the future.
     
  5. a_cuppa_joe

    the inner machinations of my mind are an enigma Supporter

    I completely empathize with those struggles in writing. The last album I reviewed was The Life of Pablo (1.0?) because it moved me to write. Since then, nothing's truly incited my cogs to creak...until maybe this Sinai Vessel record. :)

    That being said, you knocked it outta the park! I'm not sure I fully agree with everything not because of your critique but rather my needing to spend more time with the album. But at the very least this record makes me interested in the next Childish release and what Donald Glover will create next in his chosen medium. Aside from the creative choices within the songs, the production is astounding. Those guitars breathe beautifully and I feel the bass like nothing else; with the right headphones or monitors I feel like I'm sitting in on a private performance.
     
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  6. efp722

    Regular

    This was a surprise for me. Not really familiar with Donald Glover outside of The Martian and that awkward time when the internet was trying to cast him as 12 year old Miles Morales. I don't listen to much hip-hop, but I always thought it was cool that he let Childish Gambino use a picture of him as the artwork for that one album. At least that's what I thought up until a few months ago when I realized he WAS Childish Gambino. Saw this pop up on spotify last month and fell in love with the artwork. I knew he was a hip-hop artist, but I still checked it out anyway. I was not prepared for all of the 70s funk that he crammed into that album. freaking loved it.
     
    fluxyjoe and Aaron Mook like this.
  7. goation

    Regular

    A lot of people have talked about this getting more hip-hop fans into classic R&B and funk but no one talks about it going the other way. My friend doesn't listen to hip-hop like at all but he likes funk and I told him he would like this album and he loved it. Now I've gotten him to listen to To Pimp a Butterfly and he also really liked that. Trying to get him into more haha
     
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  8. efp722

    Regular

    Yeah for sure. I went back and listened to a little bit of his past discography and I found things that I could like. My biggest exposure to Hip Hop is back when i was kid listening to Eminem and, more recently, the Hamilton Broadway Cast Album; two vastly different things. Definitely happy I found this and I will definitely keep an eye on whatever he does next.
     
  9. Leftandleaving

    I will be okay. everything Supporter

    Nice review Aaron. I still haven't heard this haha
     
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  10. Give it a listen and let me know what you think, I'd love to hear yours and @sophos34 thoughts (sorry to keep buggin ya jake haha)
     
    Zac Djamoos likes this.
  11. Leftandleaving

    I will be okay. everything Supporter

    Will do, although I'm not super optimistic haha
     
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  12. SamLevi11

    Trusted Supporter

    This is a great album. In no way flawless, but I think it has a real swagger about it. I was a fan of his previous work despite the lyrics often being pretty rubbish, but this is a major step up. California is the only song I'm not keen on really. Redbone especially is absolutely fantastic.
     
  13. copey

    Newbie

    Nice review, pretty spot on with my conflicting emotions about this album.
     
    Aaron Mook likes this.
  14. Thanks for reading!