Donald Glover, rapper, producer, actor, comedian, and most importantly artist, made a shock to the public with his brand new record release, “Awaken, My Love!.” Abandoning the electronic rap style of his previous projects, Childish Gambino instead adopts an entirely new sound with “Awaken, My Love!,” a sound that reaches back to the depths of the 1970’s, pulling out a mix of both Funkadelic and Parliament influences to create a modern twist on an old classic.
A subtle, R&B style opening that uses a 90’s synth overlay and beautiful angelic voices, “Me and Your Mama” introduces the first glimpse into the now transformed Gambino. The subtle beginnings quickly change as the bass line and hi-hat begins to kick in, causing a magnificent segue into the grand and overdriven entrance of Gambino delivering an outstanding vocal performance. Gambino does all of this while surrounded by a rather funky style of instrumentation, with gritty, but gorgeous guitar chords and one of the better introductions of tracks given by Gambino to date. “This is the end of us, sleeping with the moon and the stars,” is sung along with the pound of acoustic guitars, percussion and what sounds like a blast from the past.
Gambino’s production has always been a been a heightened sense of his music and “Awaken, My Love!” is no different. The music presented is stylish and ultimately reminiscent of a Funkadelic record which, has something that Gambino had supposedly been going for with the newest installment in his musical discography. “Me and Your Mama” then fades into this psychedelic dream-like state where the drums have an intense amount of reverberation and an instrument similar to an organ segues into the next, more lively track.
Having sounded like being ripped straight from Maggot Brain, “Have Some Love” is wonderfully similar to “Can You Get to That” in both sound and artwork as both records covers are certainly similar. This is necessarily a positive note as Maggot Brain by Funkadelic had a slew of outstanding elements that when comprised together, created a truly great record. Gambino uses these similar elements like the multiple vocal overlays, and the ultimately eccentric noises that create a strange, but nostalgic feel. Gambino proudly sings, “Have a word for your brother, have some time for one another, really love one another. It’s so hard to find,” is an outstanding line and only further installs the Funkadelic theme that Gambino was going for.
This then leads into “Boogieman,” a track that sounds similar in production to George Clinton, the guitars are tuned in a similar fashion and the drums are as sporadic and adapting in the same way that Funkadelic’s drummer, Ramon “Tiki” Fulwood had played. “Awaken, My Love!,” is a love letter to 1970’s funk music and while a surprising choice in direction from Childish Gambino to take, the record works out quite well and the similar sound are the high point of the record. Where the instrumentation takes these ripping guitars and uses different types of organs, even how down to how the foundations for the drums were laid, exchanges Gambino’s once electronic synthetic style, for a more authentic sound. Gambino’s last project, Because The Internet focused on more on an unauthentic sound to create the beats and instrumentals, “Awaken, My Love!” instead focuses on a 70’s nostalgia journey that we did not know how bad we needed.
Following is the spacious and crunching track, “Zombies” which uses an ethereal style to create this “Thriller” like background. It then jumps into a breakdown where just the vocals and claps can be heard, creating an almost tribal sense of environment. This goes hand-in-hand with the past nostalgic feelings that Gambino seemed to have in mind when creating the overarching sound of “Awaken, My Love!.” The track, “Zombies,” contains a slick guitar that slowly uses a crushing amount of overlay to distort the sound and create a synthetic string ensemble. This, then paired with the primarily authentic percussion and bass lines makes for a recipe made only in Heaven.
A rapid and sporadic track, “Riot” instantly jumps into a spastic and energetic journey that uses different cymbals, bass lines, atmospheric synths, and Gambino’s stellar voice to illustrate this sprint of a track. While the shortest of all the tracks present on “Awaken, My Love!,” “Riot” feels exactly how its name presents itself. The track is a riot that contains such a wide variety of elements and moves in such a quick amount of motions, that it is near impossible to keep up with everything happening within the song. The track then slowly fades into the subtle beginnings of “Redbone.”
Starting with smooth bell and guitar focused lead, “Redbone” transitions into the distorted Gambino singing, “Daylight, I wake up feeling like you won’t play right. I used to know, but now that shit don’t feel right.” Gambino’s voice sounds pitched up but Gambino explains, “Actually, there wasn’t a ton of vocal stuff done,” this was a huge surprise as the sheer range that Gambino possesses is something of pure magic. It was fantastic in the way that Gambino can manipulate his voice to create so many varying levels within, “Awaken, My Love!.” The instrumental behind Gambino is a lovely chorus filled with bouncing synths and a smooth, but creeping drum beat that continues through most of the tracks as Gambino is able to fluently convey these stylish senses of jazz, funk, and even hints of electronic into a single package.
The first track that leads with more of a pop style, “California” does not seem to capitalize on the aspects of “Awaken, My Love!” that had worked so well and made it really stand out. The instrumental is fantastic ad still on a similar level as the other tracks present on the record, but Gambino’s voice is a strange mix and while it fits the style of the track, it feels ultimately goofy and was not the best choice to make the track stand out. When compared to the other downright incredible emotional displays that Gambino processes on other tracks, “California” seems more like a joke track or a secret bonus track that does not really have much room on “Awaken, My Love!.” His verses are not necessarily bad, it was just the vocal delivery and how the track feels entirely out of place, but the instruments like the pan-flutes and chord structure present makes for one of the more uplifting tracks on “Awaken, My Love!.”
Segueing into a soft-spoken Gambino, he opens the track and makes “Terrified” feel more like a love note to the subtle club tracks of the 80’s where a crunchy bass line and motion-inducing two-step percussion is present. This track takes more of a minimalist approach when compared to the other tracks of, “Awaken, My Love” and this was a grand break from the constant action that is present on the rest of the record. Gambino delivers another awe-inspiring performance, making the work seem almost effortless on his part where he can easily reach notes almost thought unfathomable.
“Baby Boy” pulls back the curtain with a harpsichord like instrument that takes only a second before launching into the slithering instrumental that makes up the wonderful background behind Gambino’s voice. He delivers another stunning performance and that is the same for the rest of “Awaken, My Love!.” This track also uses a fantastic bass line where the stalking instrumental can lead into the solo of the harpsichord like instrument found in “Baby Boy’s” last minutes. The solo created another additional layer to the track, this also is where the vocals of the track become a blur and Gambino delivers the lines, “There was a time before you, and there will be a time after you. Though these bodies are not our own, walk tall little one, walk tall.” Gambino then jumps right back into the emotional singing where he demands, delivering one of his strongest vocal performances yet, “Let me hold you, let me hold you.”
Leading into “The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” a sleepy acoustic track that sounds somewhat magical and almost other worldly. The chorus used creates a great making of space that Gambino uses genuinely as a tool to carry the forming electric guitar solos and the bass line that slowly creeps into frame. It is a relaxing second to last effort that contains only an instrumental and a quick silence before reaching the final chapter in “Awaken, My Love.”
The last leg of “Awaken, My Love!,” the track, “Stand Tall” ends the jazz, funk-fusion journey from prodigy, Childish Gambino. Abandoning the raps to instead pick up a microphone built for singing, focusing more on the dreamscapes of gospel and atmosphere to then creating great visions within his music. The change is welcome and it challenges the listener, wanting to completely differ from the usual style of Gambino. “Awaken, My Love!” is downright beautiful, creating a sense of hope for the future of Donald Glover, and Childish Gambino.