STAFF PICK: "Awaken, My Love!" by Childish Gambino
Donald Glover takes pride in being an artist, and he’s not afraid to let you know. He has attempted to explain, saying, "I wake up every morning and I start grabbing things - spray-painting the walls, recording, writing. They're all connected for me. It's all about trying to get to the bottom of what being a human is." This is a noble cause, and it is typical of artists regardless of the medium used. However, it is also in Donald’s nature to evolve. As early as February 2015, he explained, "I feel like Childish Gambino is a period that should come to a close." In many ways, it feels like “Awaken, My Love!” symbolically reflects this sentiment, this desire for evolution.
“Awaken, My Love!” seems to be the result of a metamorphosis that began in Because the Internet, in which it seemed Donald was suddenly acutely aware of the importance of melody and structure. This record was followed by STN MTN, a lackluster mixtape of Donald rapping over sampled beats; then Kauai, a brief and breezy flirtation with Pop/R&B. The latter marks an important – admittedly awkward – transitional period from Hip-Hop to Funk/Soul. Rather than creating a hybrid of the two, Donald has decided to embrace Soul completely. The resulting record is a drastic shift from previous efforts; it is a singular vision that is undeniably more cohesive than its predecessors.
The first element of “Awaken, My Love!” that demands attention is Donald’s improved vocal performance. In previous efforts, he has sung somewhat sparingly, or at least with restraint. Here his voice truly shines, revealing an impressive (and surprising) vocal range. The delivery is varied depending upon the feelings conveyed. Donald’s words carry significant strength throughout the multifaceted opener “Me and Your Mama.” Accompanying this is refreshingly crisp production; it is warm and contained within rounded edges. It is enthrallingly funky and mesmerizingly atmospheric due to the generous use of vocal/drum reverb and soft synthesizers. Most tracks are given ample room to breathe, allowing them to remain lush without seeming too indulgent.
“Have Some Love” contains group vocals that are varied in their levels of reverberation, which proves a worthwhile experiment. This track, like most others, includes reserved embellishments and a restrained use of delay effects. Album highlight “Boogieman” features subtly doubled vocals, adding more weight to the delivery alongside a powerfully overstated funk composition. “Riot” is an unrelenting contrast to the laid-back nature of the rest of the album, but it eventually fizzles out into the gently modulating synthesizers of the artfully catchy highlight “Redbone.”
Donald’s lyrics are a bit silly at times, for example in the metaphorical misfires of “Zombies”:
“All they eat are people”
“We’re eating you for profit”
Another unfortunate pitfall is the focus-breaking “California,” which features staccato auto-tuned vocals, and not a shred of stylistic continuity with the rest of the record. While it is a playful track and it’s likely not meant to be taken seriously, it still feels distasteful; the record would improve with its removal. Instrumental track “The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” though slow-moving and simple, shows a great deal of restraint in developing a feeling of longing. This longing is resolved by the final song, “Stand Tall,” a carefully crafted epic. It is clearly designed to be an album closer; its metamorphoses are tied together with a choral motif that is simultaneously bright and haunting.
Overall, “Awaken, My Love!” is Donald’s most refined work to date. It exemplifies his extraordinary artistic versatility and his willingness to create according to his own desires. The result of this willingness is a surprisingly immersive experience; Donald has a knack for increasing the value of the homes he rents.
Stream Awaken, My Love! below: