Childish Gambino “Awaken, My Love!” 1 Listen Album Review
What is there left to say about Donald Glover?
For the last few months, he has given us reason after reason to sing his praises. As an actor, as a writer, as a singer, and as an innovator, excellence has been exhibited in all his fields. Since unveiling the Pharos app it has been Glover Season, and the release of "Awaken, My Love!" appears to be the climax of his domination. Expectations have never been higher for a Childish Gambino album, but this is also the most excited people have felt about him as a recording artist; his music has never sounded this good, it has never been this undeniable. It's as if his entire artistic career has been leading up to this one big boom of dominance in both T.V. and music.
When Childish Gambino entered into the music industry, he was still finding his voice as a rapper and singer. He was an artist that had plenty of potential but was in need of development. If you dig into his back catalog you are bound to find both songs that shine like gems, and songs that resemble more coal than diamond. But he persevered, he continued to create, he continued to improve, and now he stands before us in his final form—a complete musician. “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” are the first two singles from "Awaken, My Love!" and they are the best examples of his evolution. Don’t treat him as the Childish Gambino who made Camp, don’t view him as the rapper from Because the Internet, this is music from a completely different creative palette.
Since hearing “Me and Your Mama,” I felt any crowning of an Album Of The Year would be a premature decision. If any album could suddenly arise and shoot to the top of AOTY list, it is "Awaken, My Love!". It’s an immense amount of pressure to expect an album to be the best you’ll hear all year, but I believe that Gambino truly saved the best for last.
In usual 1 Listen review format, I can not fast forward, skip, rewind or stop for any reason. Each song will receive my gut reaction review from beginning to end. Right now, rain is falling like little missiles from heaven, lightning is bringing color to the gloomy sky, and tornado warnings are being reported like in that movie 2012—if the world has to end, I pray it ends after I finish this review. Amen!
1. "Me and Your Mama"
I’ve played this song so many times over the last few weeks, it’s like being greeted by an old friend. Production is outstanding. So serene, like walking into a church and being surrounded by chanting angels. Magical. Music you just get lost in. The build up is insane, like the moments leading up to a volcano erupting. THEN THE ELECTRIC GUITAR BREAKS THROUGH THE BEAUTY LIKE THE SKY SPLITTING WIDE OPEN BY MOLTEN LAVA!!!! THE AGGRESSION, THE POWER! THE PASSION! The break-up song I've heard all year. You feel a jolt grab your soul by the ears. Whoever arranged this song is a genius. My heart still jumps out of my chest due to Gambino's blood chilling singing. THAT LAST PULSING SCREAM. Then it stops. It goes back to being calm and heavenly. The rattle of the tambourine. If this isn’t gospel, it's sure as hell spiritual. Very few songs put you through so much serenity and chaos, a journey through love and destruction. What a hell of an intro.
2. "Have Some Love"
DRUMS. Hard drums. Chanting. A nice tempo. Man, is this soulful. The choir makes me envision the Evans family. Good Times really didn’t have any good times. I think that’s Gambino’s voice. It’s being sung in a lower tone. He sounds like he’s entranced, possessed. There’s some bounce to this. I have no idea what happened in that first verse, but this hook has me in my feels. All about togetherness. Beat switch. Instrumentation is so eclectic, you feel the rhythm in your bones. There’s no predicting what happens next, it’s like when a Kung-Fu master uses the drunken fist style. It feels like a village coming together and reminding each other of what love is. AHHHHHH THIS IS TOO MUCH.
Gambino is not allowing you any room to grab footing. This feel like some '70s blaxploitation soul music. In the last three songs he has used three different singing voices, it’s almost like he’s taking on several roles. Oh man, who is playing that bass in the background. One thing about the production, it is ever morphing. It’s so feverish, wild and untamed. The overall sound feels familiar, like something I heard sitting on my grandmother’s lap. His voice is slowed, it’s almost creepy, but I expect this is supposed to be the Boogieman sounds. I like this as some strange theme song for a supervillain that’s hip, and somewhat cool. So much music surging, so many sounds swirling. There’s definitely a story going on. A menacing laugh. This ending section sounds gorgeous! Each song builds, climaxes, and just falls into the next song. Each song is a volcano—erupting and calming.
I’m exhausted, I’m confused, I’m amazed. The guitar playing at the beginning is drawing me in. This is serenading. This is the most Gambino has sounded like himself on this album thus far. And he sounds amazing. THE HIGH NOTE HE JUST HIT SENT ME FLYING INTO A ANOTHER WORLD. I’M NO LONGER ON EARTH. WHO IS THIS!? WHO TAUGHT HIM TO SING LIKE THIS!? Background vocals. Boy, oh boy. BINO IS CATCHING BODIES LEFT AND RIGHT. Was that Kari Faux doing background vocals? This is groovy, funky. The most minimal production yet. It’s really allowing his voice be the North Star that’s going to send us all to heaven. Follow the voice. What is the story? Who is the Boogieman? This is going to be a favorite because it just feels so damn good. He’s asking if I feel alive but it’s hard not to when the album is sending lightning strikes of bliss into your ears. This solo at the end feel like it could’ve been somewhere on TPAB.
This review format is terrible for an album so intricate. My head feels like it’s swirling in a sea of sounds. He just hit a high note that left my fingers completely immobile. They were frozen in a state of, “HE CAN DO THAT?” The instrumentation feels like it’s clashing but the song is called “Riot” and in riots people get trampled so that’s what appears to be happening. This was just a short interlude but man oh man I feel like this one won’t get much love in the coming days.
I can finally breath. "Awaken, My Love!" feels like a long journey through a jungle of music that's easy to get lost in. Can someone explain to me how he channeled Badu and Prince? This is by far one of my favorite songs of this year. It sounds like having a full refrigerator, it sounds like all your bills being paid and having money left over, it sounds like good health and better wine. We really have to talk about this kid as a vocalist, some of these notes are still impressive after a thousand plays. I wish I could infinite loop into his song the way you can infinite scroll on Tumblr. The funky bass. I’m telling you, this album is intricate. The production just builds, builds, and builds like a grown man playing with Legos. We definitely need more instrumental solos on rap albums in 2017, even though this isn’t a rap album.
This is WARM! Talk about setting a tone. The bongo drums, the smooth guitar strumming, man this sounds like something from a beach band with soul. Bino's voice undergoes another change. He sounds frantic, but this is the closest he’s gotten to rap on the album thus far. Production continues to be superb. This voice has to grow on me. But I like his tone. Who is he? AHHH, he’s throwing an accent on his voice, making it hard to distinguish his words. But someone moved to California and he saying she lost her mind. There’s a story to this album, I can’t wait to crack the code. No.. it’s over.
Every song's instrumental sounds just like the album title. “Terrified” is slow, ominous, there’s a sound of a snake slithering. He knows how to capture the setting. But the way it builds up is so captivating. You’re grabbed by a lasso that could tame a bull. Did he just say, “Eat you alive?” Say what? The beat just turned into a jam, this is a so damn groovy and terrifying. It’s like how I imagine "Thriller" would feel if we had to live the music video. Loving these riffs. There goes that ominous laugh again. There’s multiple characters being represented. OH SHIT. WHO IS THAT? A woman’s voice saying "no, no." Was that a child? What a voice. If you like vocalists, if you like instrumentation, if you like soul and funk, this is the album for you. Man, she sung that like her life depended on it.
9. "Baby Boy"
OHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!! This is a GROOVE. I just felt my heart flutter, my soul is doing the "Cupid Shuffle," a single tear is welling in my eye. Don’t take him away. A character is begging for her baby boy, is that Gambino? If so, he is killing the androgynous vocals. It’s like the vocals from “Redbone.” Or at least that’s what it sounds like. THIS IS AMAZING. The emotions are so raw, so blue, soul-piercing. The musicians on this album have outdone themselves. This solo at the end is passion. Let me build a home in this part of the song and never leave. Gambino talking! This is the first time. “Walk tall little one,” I’m sure that will play a part in the end. I’m completely beside myself. I don’t even know who Baby Boy is but i don’t want them to take him away. S/O to Prince.
10. "The Night Me and Your Mama Met"
This is much lighter than the previous song. So soft, elegant. The choir has returned and they did not forget their halos and angel wings. Oh, my soul has grown three sizes bigger since pressing play on this album. If this song doesn’t make you levitate out your seat then take your cement shoes off. Is that a harmonica? Now we really cooking. BOY YOU BETTER PLAY THAT WITH ALL YOUR HUMAN EXISTENCE. Been waiting on a harmonica this entire album. The way they built this beat up is like watching a caterpillar become a butterfly. A perfect metaphor for Gambino's music career. No singing on this one, but it didn’t need his voice.
11. "Stand Tall"
This has been the longest, shortest album I’ve heard in some time. So much happened, hold up man, this guys voice just came and it sounds like watching Michael Jackson moonwalk in heaven. As a vocalist, he is performing at a power level well over 9,000. I’m seeing the brightest color yellow. You just stop and listen. Stop what you’re doing and listen to this man sing. If I was in a car I would treat a green light as if it was red right now. A saxophone? There’s a soft horn being played. This album is like an ocean, there’s always deeper to dive just when you reach a new depth. This sound has reached its third sonic switch, I'm loving these chords. Marvin Gaye. I’m just going to leave that there. I don’t think there’s a church of Gambino, but if there were, this is worthy of getting a few dollars in the collection plate.
I wasn’t ready.
As the final song ended, I just stared at my computer attempting to assess what just occurred in my eardrums. What do you say when one listen is simply not enough to truly dive into every twist, every turn? The first listen of "Awaken, My Love!" is only good for erasing any and all perceptions of what a Childish Gambino album could sound like. I knew the album would be unlike anything he’s ever done and yet, I find myself stunned by these 11 songs.
Stunned, surprised, and impressed.
His singing—I'm still in disbelief. That’s what I found most astounding, how his voice has grown and matured to such levels. How many rare candies did he devour to reach such range and vocal strength? What kind of filter did his voice go through to have all these different voices? The voices are a big part of the narrative, and the story is what I’m most intrigued by. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a movie to come. You can hear it, how the songs feel more like a soundtrack than simply an album. Gambino has a way of creating these worlds, and "Awaken, My Love!" is the biggest thus far.
The world didn't end, but if it did, I would go out with a smile after hearing such an album. Is this 2016’s Album Of The Year…? I need a few more listens before any crowns are given. But I will say, "Awaken, My Love!" made me feel. The music is touching, there’s so much emotion poured into these songs that it's impossible not to be grabbed by the intensity.
Art that makes you feel is art that you don’t forget, and "Awaken, My Love!" is an unforgettable experience from beginning to end.
By Yoh, aka Childish Gambinoyoh, aka @Yoh31.