By Aaron Hartley–
I’ve never really been a fan of Childish Gambino, Donald Glover’s musical persona. His first album, “Camp,” was pretty bad and the follow-up, “Because the Internet,” was simply okay.
His rapping was often corny and his flow jagged around the edges. But it had a nagging sense that this guy obviously had talent. It just wasn’t fully realized.
This year, his abilities have really begun to show. His comedy/drama show, “Atlanta,” is one of the best new shows of the year. It showcases Glover moving on from his goofball style in “30 Rock” and “Community” into much more nuanced, topical and smart material. His latest album “Awaken, My Love!” is further proof of this.
This record is interesting. It’s not rap, which may deter some, but it garners a funk, with hints of neo-psychedelia, soul, reggae and R&B sound throughout. The opener “Me and Your Mama” is a stellar highlight of the album’s consistently dark, dense and fantastic production.
When the long intro of bass, drums, and spacey instrumentals finally breaks, a guitar line kicks in. Glover roars, “Let me into your heart” alongside a choral group, punctuating is lyrics with dissonant screams, a staple of the funk genre. He pulls it off and it’s impressive.
On tracks “Have Some Love” and “Boogieman,” Glover is noticeably borrowing from the band Funkadelic, especially the classic record “Maggot Brain.” The groovy bass, guitar lines and communal choruses all sound familiar, but sound modern enough to stand alone.
The same is similar of “Redbone,” a standout jam where Glover is channeling Prince with some high vocal effects over some smooth-as-butter keyboard and bass.
The specific homages end there, and latter half takes on its own, even weirder path. The track “California” is a bizarre, strangely catchy and infectious, reggae sort of beast with a slew of exotic instrumentals. “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” features none of Glover’s vocals, but is a gorgeous, absorbing instrumental.
The closer “Stand Tall” begins as a ballad about following dreams before busting into a cacophony of voices and instruments before ending abruptly.
“Awaken, My Love” is a fascinating work. It doesn’t always work and is occasionally messy. Some of the songs run a little long and some tracks are corny but catchy. As enjoyable as the music may be, it’s all over the place stylistically, and it’s not really clear what Glover aimed to achieve. The overall effect, though, is a success.
Childish Gambino wanted to do something different from anything he’s ever done and he does. For the most part, it’s great. It’ll divide people, I’m sure, but it has cemented me as a fan.