A Neo-Soul Trip into Wonderland: A Review of Childish Gambino’s New Project

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This is the album cover for Childish Gambino’s third studio album “Awaken, My Love!” It evokes a funky and psychedelic feeling that remains constant for the whole album.

Noah Smith, Opinion Editor

Donald Glover, or “Childish Gambino” (his stage name), has left an indelible mark on popular culture in the past few years. He is not only a musician, but is also a very well-known comedian who was formerly on the massively popular TV show “Community”. This year, however, seems to have been his year. He not only released his extremely highly anticipated third studio album, “Awaken, My Love!”, he also created, wrote and starred in the television show “Atlanta” which has received rave reviews. As of right now, the jury still seems to be out on his album; however, the reviews are looking more and more positive with time. Without further ado, a breakdown of each song is below.

 

Me and Your Mama

Kicking the album off, the first single begins with a low chorus that recites the same line over and over eight times, getting louder and stronger each time. This is finally broken by Gambino’s harsh, aching crooning about a contentious relationship that is tested by people in his life and by the woman he sings about as well. The sound is completely different from anything he has previously released and sets up the tone for the rest of the album: heavy lyrics with a mostly downtempo beat that lulls the listeners into a false sense of security. A truly fantastic track to introduce fans to this extremely experimental album.

 

Have Some Love

Moving into the meat of the album, this upbeat track exudes one overarching theme: love. With the knowledge of rumors swirling that Gambino welcomed a child into his life earlier this year, this song seems to be addressed to his child, as does the whole of the album. Speaking of the vocals, it is mostly made up by a choir singing about loving each other with Gambino singing with an odd sound, almost as though he is out of breath. And it should not work, but it does. It works well. Not one of my favorite tracks, but it evokes a feeling of the 1970s Funk scene that is impossible not to tap one’s foot to.

 

Boogieman

Another upbeat track, this song feels like it would have played throughout multiple nightclubs during the 1970s. With a hushed, pitched down chorus and someone laughing maniacally in the background, it sure sounds quite odd, but it just seems to work. This is also the third song on the album and there has been no rapping whatsoever, a sharp departure from Gambino’s past works.

 

Zombies

This track takes a much slower tempo from what has come before. Focusing on evoking an eerie feeling with lines like “You can feel them breathing / breathing down your spine” it still seems to remain more dreamy than scary as the air is filled with electric guitars and beautifully chosen female background vocals that speak the symbolic line “We’re eating you for profit”, which seems to be a jab at people who would crush Gambino to get more money, a common occurrence in the music scene.

 

Riots

Riot breaks from the lengthy opus’ of the first portion of the album by having an extremely upbeat, less-than-three-minute long song that exclaims: “Everyone / Get down, baby!” in the most psychedelic and body-moving way possible. A fun track that contrasts nicely with the rest of the album’s symbolic lyrics.

 

Redbone

One of the more experimental tracks on the album (which is saying something) sees Gambino pitch his voice up to sound indescribably tenacious. He croons on this track about being aware of people who are “creepin’” and trying to stab him in the back. The hook is extremely infectious and will stay in one’s head for the rest of the day, if not the rest of the week.

 

California

Another one of the extremely short tracks, “California” is perhaps the most fun track on the entire album. It not only features what iTunes calls a “calypso” vibe, but also makes extensive use of a whistle that greatly resembles that of a train whistle. I know, it sounds very weird and it honestly is, but, there is just something about it that fits together so well and makes the song even more enjoyable. The vocals are also very distorted which still seems to work out well, although it can be hard to dance to on first listen.

 

Terrified

Pushing further into downtempo territory, this track uses Gambino’s real, unadulterated voice for possibly the first time in the entire album. This feeling harkens back to that of “Zombies” with heavy electric guitars and lulled vocals mixed with horror-themed lyrics that attempt to create an eerie tone. The track ends with an interesting use of a childlike vocal saying “No” over and over with no background beside a faint keyboard.

 

Baby Boy

Over six minutes in length and mostly constituted by instrumental, this slow burn ballad is extremely heartbreaking and almost confirms the rumor that Gambino had a child earlier this year. Toward the end, he speaks straight to what the audience can assume is his son and tells him to “walk strong” as he sings about never wanting to let him go.

 

The Night Me and Your Mama Met

Filled to the brim with a vocalizing choir and beautifully crafted instrumentals that resonate throughout the entire song, this is one of the absolute standout tracks from the album. It is completely devoid of any vocals aside from the vocalization and begins softly but gradually moves into the trippy, electric sound that has become the staple of the project. This song perfectly sets the mood for the night that he would have met this woman he has named “Your Mama”.

 

Stand Tall

The closing track, “Stand Tall” begins with a psychedelic synthesizer that Gambino sings over with absolutely no augmentation. He sings in this closing track about optimism and how his father told him to stand tall. He urges the listener to “smile when you can”. In the second verse, he switches from mother to father and is joined by a faint choir repeating her lesson. The song then pushes back into 70’s wonderland for the last four minutes, rounding out an insanely risky and ambitious project two years in the making.

 

Overall, the album is not at all what anyone was expecting; however, I would have to say that this fact is the album’s greatest strength. Gambino decided to ditch his entire image to pursue a completely new genre of music that has been extinct for decades. Will this album revive funk and psychedelia? Most likely, no. But it does put Childish Gambino’s talent on full display as he transcends genres and “lanes” to make any masterpiece he possible can.