2 Dec 2016

Childish Gambino / "Awaken, My Love!" (album review)

Childish Gambino's third album is a complete departure from anything that he has made before, with no rapping to be found and not a single guest appearance, it Glover showing us just what he's capable of.  This record is a vibrant exploration of the genre that looks forward, for example with the release of a 'virtual reality' vinyl,  whilst also delving into past with its 70s inspired funk and soul. There are so many influences at play on this album, from Pink Floyd to Prince to Parliament, and elements of Bowie on the track Zombies, all injected with Gambino's own sound and style.

As with much of what Childish Gambino produces, Awaken, My Love! is eccentric and eclectic, a prime example being the track California. With fascinating sounds that the incredible production on this album elevate to new found levels, it's a joy to listen to. There is SO much going on in this album. Is it a concept album? It feels like he's telling a story, but then he takes my hand and pulls me in a completely different direction and I'm left breathless and wanting to listen again. It's almost like a soundtrack for a film or show that doesn't exist…yet. From start to finish Gambino presents you with this captivating soundscape which seems only to expand with each and every listen. I want to bathe in the grooves, the soul, the passion, the high notes. I'm sorry but this album, for me has to jump to the top of the albums of the year chart, I'm in love.

Each track is fantastic, but some stand-outs include Baby Boy, raw and desperate, but so smooth it makes you tilt your head back in bliss before you're sucker-punched in the gut with the vocalist (who IS that, it sounds so androgynous?) pleading you not to 'take my baby boy', it's heart-wrenching. So many times this album made me shake my head in disbelief at how good it sounds, and the solo at the end of Baby Boy was one of them. Everything about it is smooth, the electric guitar to the organ. It feeds perfectly into the wonderful instrumental The Night Me and Your Mama Met. Boogieman…let's talk about the bass on this one because it's tasty, the musicianship across the record is insanely good. This track has a sinister undertone, especially with the manic laughing, I don't know what’s going on but I'm willing to listen to this album non-stop until I find out…There are so many narratives to the album, like California to Terrified speak of being in a new city and finding it's sinister underbelly, but there's so much more than that being discussed too.

Awaken, My Love! is also a discussion of what it means to be black in America, with its sound firmly rooted in historically black music and subtly politicised lyricism.  The elements of funk, soul and even gospel are most apparent in the track Redbone, with its screeching vocals, lip-bitingly-good bassline and delicious guitar riff and Glover's calls of 'stay woke'. Riot hints at the Black Lives Matter movement, a new kind of anthemic for a divided America, not a call to arms but something to inspire people into caring.

Stand Tall is the perfect closer, you think you've reached the end, exhausted but beaming, and SUDDENLY the sound shifts again and you dive further into this thing, this massive, breath-taking track that grows once more then ends. It's a track full of contrasts, the soft strumming of guitars against blistering screeches, delicate horn and the drumming. This track sums up the entire album, an ever-evolving, morphing mass of music. Awaken, My Love! ends with you staring, stunned at what you've just heard, and so incredibly glad that you've heard it. This album is an experience, a prog-freak-funk fuelled experience, it swirls and swells, seemingly never-ending. It's a short album, but there's so much substance that it feels as though it stretches on for so much longer. The album is a work of art, a tapestry of varying sounds and messages, it's diverse and incredibly important. This, in my opinion is Gambino's My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, is a game-changer in every sense of the word. This is the album that will make people sit up and listen and take Donald Glover, one of the most talented creatives out there right now, seriously. This is album is unforgettable, and one I'll always wish I could hear for the first time again.

With all the loss and devastation of 2016, it's art like this that keeps us going. Music that takes you away from reality, whilst addressing the reality, and people like Childish Gambino who is willing to push the boundaries and somewhat make up for the recent loss of music pioneers. This album is so intriguing and exciting, I'm begging for more from him already, but for now, I'll listen over and over until I stop finding new element. Thank you, Childish Gambino, this is a gift.


(Words: Rach Tindall)