Review: Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!
Written by Aiden Brady on 21st December 2016
For Donald Glover A.K.A Childish Gambino, no mountain has proved unassailable. With an illustrious 14 year career encompassing acting, writing, stand up comedy and music he is often called a 21st century renaissance man…
Proclaiming an endeavour to “Sucker punch” the audience with each new project, this harboured penchant for innovation is clear across his recent discography. His first rap album, Camp, utilised optimistic and innocent sounds to investigate its summer camp theme. However his second studio project, Because The Internet, was his first true musical “Sucker punch” as he puts it. With self-aware tones, he explored the modern influences of web culture, both socially and with regard to his own career, extending the project with an online screenplay and short film.
Ludwig Göransson reprises his role as Childish’s co-producer and collaborator. The pair have out done themselves on Awaken, My Love! Veering away from digital sounds and using more live recordings, Wholly coming across upon listening, Childish has expressed his desire to produce an album that can be toured and doesn’t lack for anything when performed live. Each track meticulously paints a picture and is perfect for stage performance. With this has come a new, funkadelic inspired, style with groovy vibes emanating from every track.
Childish has no fear when it comes to discussing love and his personal life. The opener, ‘Me And Your Mama’ starts off softly, with tinkling lullaby-esque keyboard synths and soothing vocals. This deceptively light intro suddenly erupts into menacing laughter and a fiery, raucous electric guitar riff. Childish screaming, “Do what you want, I’m telling you, Let me into your heart.” With the last line carried on with harmonious backing vocals. The middle section is a hot-blooded and boisterous Childish pleading desperately for the muse to love him, followed by a gentle outro, a much softer electric guitar, shimmering tambourines and warbling synths slowly lead the fade out. The tapestry of sounds used on the first track is an early indicator of the versatility heard throughout.
2016 has been very turbulent for many Americans, particularly in the black community with shootings and unrest across the country, including Childish Gambino’s home city of Atlanta. Commentary on these issues is layered throughout the album but takes centre stage on two tracks. ‘Have Some Love’ is rooted in funk; carried by a lovely soft drum rhythm, the groovy bassline, wide spacious synths and gasping vocals that drip emotion. Full of warm optimism, it preaches a peaceful message, the hook “Have a word for your brother, Have some time for one another,” urges the listener to retain those core values which bind us together.
The irrefutable rhythm of ‘Riot’ examines the issue from another angle, Childish comes out screaming and preaching the darkness in our world. A consistent quality of the album is the perfect presentation of a scene – It’s is a hectic mishmash of uplifting sounds; mainly responsible are an extremely catchy guitar riff and unrelenting drum beat. This is a fantastic musical dramatization of the chaotic but motivated scramble of revolt.
As with Because The Internet, Childish openly realises the downfalls and trappings of fame and creative success. A key point of contrast between the exploration of these topics on, Awaken, My Love! is the variation in styles used. Where in the past these struggles were described with anxiety inducing darkness, the styles are more eclectic now. Each track is uniquely produced to communicate its own message while retaining the album’s psychedelic-funk core.
Childish’s vocals on the hook of ‘Zombies’ are lurching and sputtering, expertly conveying the sense of a horde’s grim approach. Underlining this are a series of guttural clicks and ghoulish breathing, giving further lease of life to the undead imagery. Quite cleverly, ‘The Zombies’ represents those who feed off him creatively and financially. Funkadelic’s influence oozes from every corner, with flanger and echo effects used both instrumentally, particularly on the guitar riffs and keyboard throughout but also vocally, coating the sound with an eerie groove.
You can hear the tropical sun of the golden state on ‘California.’ Don’t be fooled by the sun-stroked synths and scratchy guitar riffs though, the track is a satirical allusion to the superficial attraction of California. Repeatedly mentioning the now semi-defunct social media service Vine, Childish wittily makes it a tool to highlight the allure of fame which seems more attainable than ever through social media platforms. “Better get your percentage:” The backdrop to the scene is the exploitative nature of stardom’s dogpile.
Returning to the spooky styles of ‘Zombies’, ‘Terrified’ is an honest and self-aware acknowledgement of how fleeting relevance is for an artist. On the opening verse, Childish poses, “There’s a bottom to the top of a moment, you won’t always be around.” A deep, dark synth melody and mouthy slurps evocating Hannibal Lecter set the track’s uneasy tone. With the hook comes a haunting guitar riff, reflecting this anxiety’s constant presence on his mind. The closing verse of the track is sung by 9-year-old JD McRary; the selection of a budding artist is a shrewd personification of the fears on show.
The tone of the album has likely been given a nudge by Childish’s recent passage into fatherhood. Love, both for women and his newborn are prevalent themes across several tracks. ‘Redbone’ is an electronic funk tangled ballad dedicated to love’s tests, with sounds so hot and passionate you’ll fall in love with them. Childish flexes his vocal range, reaching higher notes than I would’ve thought possible for him, some editing has been done on his voice here but not overly so. The synth and bass on ‘Redbone’ extend their funky tendrils around the track and are complimented the by a soft and nurturing kickdrum. As is pretty much every track on the album, ‘Redbone’ is a testament to Childish’s adaptability. I don’t believe that anyone aside from those in the know could’ve predicted the witty and self-aware lyricist to lay down baby making music prior to this album.
A righteous ode to his recently born son, broken-hearted blues are spilt across ‘Baby Boy.’ Childish implores his ex-girlfriend not to hold his mistakes in their relationship between his son and he. Hymnish falsetto with light acoustic guitar support hypnotic electric guitar riffs and twangs on soulful ‘The Night Me And Your Mama Met.’ A dignified portrayal of his son’s conception, this will make for better listening to his child than any ‘How we met’ tale could.
The album’s final track ‘Stand Tall’ incorporates Childish’s own childhood experiences in a thoughtful and initially solemn consideration and consolidation of the themes discussed throughout the album. Making use of similar soft synths as at the album’s beginning, Childish recognises life and the world’s difficulties. This section of the track ends with a lush synth before a beat switch and mood change; acoustic strings and excited whoops from Childish bring the album to an optimistic and rounded close.
A sucker punch was promised and a sucker punch delivered. Childish has often struggled with the concept of being pigeonholed as one thing; Actor, Comedian, Writer, Rapper. This, his most mature and complete release to date, only further proves his point that artists are artists and creativity extends beyond industry.