Childish Gambino–“Awaken, My Love!”

Released 12/2/16

Rating: 6/7

Donald Glover is a jack of all trades. Making his debut as a writer for the NBC comedy, 30 Rock, Glover has since  toured as a standup comic, acted in several movies, made several albums under the name Childish Gambino, and most recently, created a hit TV-Show on FX by the name of Atlanta. Glover is taking a break from acting and coming back to his musical career with the release of his newest album, “Awaken, My Love!”.

Gambino gave the public a first look into his album this past June when he held an event called “Pharos” in Joshua Tree, California. With that came a smartphone app that lets those who weren’t in attendance still get an inside look at the event. Gambino then gave another slight taste of the album when he secretly hid the cover art for the album in the “Juneteenth” episode of Atlanta.

His previous work, Kauai, showed Gambino’s interest in breaking away from his fast-paced rapping career, and instead focusing more on experimentation with solo voices and mellow beats. In the weeks leading up to the album’s debut, Gambino released two of the tracks as singles, “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone.” The funk and soul influence of these two tracks confirmed the suspicion of Gambino’s transition, and from then on we knew, “Awaken, My Love!” would not be a rap album.

“Redbone,” possibly an homage to the Native American soul/funk/rock group of the same name, is a perfect encapsulation of what Gambino is all about now. A fusion of soul and funk, of a mellow beat accompanied by wavy melodies–the entire album is captured in this single track.

Not only has this album surprised his fan-base with the lack of singing, but the altering of his voice on his tracks is far more apparent than any of his previous works. On songs like “Zombies” and “Boogieman” the voice effects are done perfectly to communicate an eerie sound to them – reflecting on the names of the tracks themselves. However, on “California,” Gambino’s voice altering is completely overdone, almost to the point where it is barely recognizable–but regardless of that, the track is meant to be more a fun and lighthearted song, to which the effects help in such a way to communicate that.

Once you get past “California” the album takes an immediate drop in tempo, and stays that way until its end. “Terrified” continues the ‘creepiness’ of tracks from before, but with a slower beat and far more melody. “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” seems to be an instrumental continuation of the beginning track.

“Baby Boy” and “Stand Tall” are soulfully inspired ballads that give a strong finish to the album, even if it wasn’t the ending many of us were hoping for.

“Riot” is the most energy-driven track on the album, and the closest thing we are getting to the old Gambino. However, it lasts barely two minutes, and without any raps, even this shows just how much Gambino has changed in these few years.

“Awaken, My Love!”, to put it bluntly, is straight up strange. The album gets far more enjoyable with multiple listens, and once you realize that this is who Childish Gambino is now. Gambino has always had tremendous production value, but this is in a league of its own–it’s outstanding. This is by far his most mature album-–but “Awaken, My Love!” isn’t just an album, it’s an experience in its own right.