Donald Glover, better known by the name of Childish Gambino, has always been hard to pin down as an artist. I’d say he’s taken what you might call the ‘Kanye route’ - you get the sense that he’s still exploring and evolving. Mapping the progression of his albums, it is clear to me that ‘Awaken, My Love!’ shows his strongest effort so far.
The opening track, ‘Me and Your Mama’, sets the tone for the rest of the album. He takes the opportunity to showcase his impressive falsetto, starting mellow with a delicate synth-y instrumental, and building to a wild, heavy crescendo by which point he’s practically howling. The messy, unpolished undertone - a la Frank Ocean’s ‘Blonde’ - gives the whole album a more experimental feel, a kind of raw energy that’s so rare for an artist to capture.
The standout track from the album for me would have to be ‘Redbone’; it’s, just objectively, an instant classic. Everything about the song crackles with authenticity; lyrically, instrumentally, vocally. The tagline from the song, ‘stay woke’, lends the notion of political inclination without having to explicitly address it. It’s a perfect stance to take, leaving the song neutral enough to be universally enjoyed, but subtle enough to be appreciated by those who are listening out for it.
Gambino’s voice is practically unrecognisable from previous albums; strong falsetto features in nearly every track, and makes for a weightily funky vibe reaching across the whole album. Admittedly, some tracks are ambitious in terms of his range but he manages to touch the breaking point of his voice and hover there; a kind of raspy, unpolished sound. The sound of his voice isn’t so dissimilar to the likes of funk king Prince, which would be an interesting direction for the artist to take in the future.
The most common complaint about the album is that it is certainly not a passive listen. Actually, it’s frankly exhausting to listen to as a whole, but you leave feeling the opposite of empty. The complaints mainly stem from confusion, as it’s nothing like his previous, more mellow, backtrack-esque discography. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, it’ll reward you.
An easy way to sum up this album is to tell you to take a look at the cover art. It visually encapsulates the whole thing- there’s something equally ‘other’, something spiritual, enveloping the listener. For me, this album is what I would consider the pinnacle of quality. There’s nothing more fascinating than an artist in their explorative stage, and with such a high quality of execution, there’s very little to criticise.