The sounds produced on this album follow a new direction for hip-hop artist Childish Gambino, and it’s a hugely welcomed approach. The album’s lead single ‘Me and Your Mama’, released in early November, came as a pleasant surprise, with a misleading intro that seemingly offers a romantic and calm number. However, after two minutes of gently easing you into the album, Gambino suddenly drops a big sound with a naughty rock bassline and guitars, modern hip-hop drum beat, and soulful vocals that sound like a blend of Kendrick Lamar and Charles Bradley; only to end with a delicate outro that uses soft electronic sounds to form a soothing psychedelic instrumental. It’s both fun and artistic, which often seems like a thin line to balance on but Childish Gambino does it with such effortlessness, he sets the bar high with this opening track.
This album instantly feels like an extraordinary masterpiece of psychedelic funk and soul, with visible hip-hop roots. Track after track, Gambino surprises, enchants, and makes you want to pull weird bass faces. It is a faultless work of art that has traces of its inspirations, but the record stands on its own two feet and sounds completely original. The style feels both old school and innovative, if this is setting the standard for future funk and space-age soul then I am totally on board. The experimental album does not feel pretentious or bloated, it feels varied but concise enough to stay engaged with. Childish Gambino has a phenomenal voice, with his style ranging from screechy funk-master James Brown to avant-garde and space-pop Prince. The second track on the album is titled ‘Have Some Love’ which has a hip-hop backing with soulful gospel vocals and a jazz-funk bassline, it’s a layered song that follows paths you might not even see coming. Awaken, My Love is a musical maze that encourages getting lost, the sound effects and electronic melodies are combined with funky guitar riffs and jazzy keys to create a mind-bending fusion of genres.
The mixture of musical styles really feels fresh and is produced to sound both structured and improvised, the album feels like it could be a live a jam session but you can also hear the meticulous attitude towards detail and composition. A personal favourite track is ‘The Night Me and Your Mama Met’ which is a beautifully emotive song that feels romantically intimate. The song begins with an acoustic guitar reminiscent of Bob Marley with some magical choral backing vocals and continues into what feels like reggae-funk territory. When I say a personal favourite song on this album, it’s hard to actually pick one because every single song is outstanding; I am not exaggerating when I say that this album feels ground-breaking and possibly pioneering for something new, it is Grammy-worthy.
The sixth track ‘Redbone’ is an electronic soul number that features vocals which are heavily evocative of Prince from albums such as Purple Rain and Art Official Age. The album is not simply a dark psychedelic experiment as it features lighter moments in songs like ‘California’, a track that feels summery and uplifting with a number of unexpected instruments cropping up. ‘Baby Boy’ is a very personal song discussing Childish Gambino’s fear over losing his newborn child due to the breakdown of a relationship with the son’s mother, which recalls Stevie Wonder and Sly & The Family Stone. The final song on the album, ‘Stand Tall’, is a softer and more soulful track that is delightfully charming and incorporates vocoder without stepping into Daft Punk imitation; the main piano melody also seems to take influence from ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ by The Brothers Johnson.
Without wishing to divulge an entire track by track analysis, you should seriously check out Awaken, My Love!; this is an inspiring album. Childish Gambino is a moniker for Donald Glover, the well-known actor, writer and comedian, but he definitely proves his worth as an astonishingly good musician and song-writer here. This is a remarkable third record from Childish Gambino which presents experimental styles of musical fusion, featuring elements of jazz, hip-hop, funk, soul and everything else in between. The artwork itself seems like a modern re-interpretation of Funkadelic’s Cosmic Slop or Maggot Brain, and there’s a limited edition virtual reality vinyl release that has is not actually available until 2017, so I’m excited to see what experience the album still has in store. The entirety of Awaken, My Love! feels like a rare mainstream release that tries something new and manages to do it successfully, using influences and creativity to produce a truly visionary piece of work that sounds magnificent right the way through.