Childish Gambino: “Awaken, My Love!” Album Review

childishIn a year full of secret releases, unexpected hits and surprise reunions, Awaken, My Love! from entertainer, Childish Gambino aka Donald Glover is perhaps the strangest, and most delightfully surprising out of all of them yet. Even though Glover has been away from the music scene for close to 3 years, following the release of his acclaimed sophomore album, Because the Internet the writer/actor/comedian/rapper has remained very active and been quite busy over past year with a roster of work that stretches nearly as long his credentials in the entertainment business. Between writing, producing and starring in his critically acclaimed series Atlanta which debuted earlier this year on FX, Glover has also managed to come out of left field and record an album that pushes musical boundaries that few contemporary Hip-Hop and R&B artists (or any other genre for that matter) in the mainstream realm dare to tread.

Simply put, ’Awaken! My Love! is an 11 track, atmospheric musical odyssey of interstellar cosmic soul, psychedelic electro-funk and jazz-fusion that sounds like the spiritual love child of Sly & the Family Stone, Parliament-Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins, Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, Herbie Hancock, Earth, Wind & Fire, Al Green and a dash of Prince thrown in for good measure. All of these elements, influences and subtle nuances join forces together in an beautiful explosion of songs, melodies, compositions and musical ideas that quite frankly rival some of the works of artist and groups from the period it clearly drew influence from and emulates to a T. Tracks such as Redbone sound eerily similar to Bootsy Collins’ iconic song “I’d Rather Be With You” bouncing around with a smooth, spacey, ambient yet soulful vibe; while tracks such as “Zombies” and “Boogieman” are subdued, hauntingly beautiful down-tempo tunes who’s sounds immediately invoke the most vivid images and memories of Parliament-Funkadelic’s golden years. While “Stand Tall” the album’s closing song, has all the smooth, slinky energy of a Sam Cooke or Bill Withers records along with the warm, welcoming Rhodes keys to accompany it, that switches course mid-way through into a ambient, spaced out symphony only to be cut off at the very end, leaving listeners begging for more. Perhaps the only song on the whole album thats feels and sounds out of place is “California” which oddly enough immediately follows “Redbone” one of the undeniable highlights of the entire album. However, at a mere 2 minutes, it’s a brief portion of the album’s 49 minute runtime, leaving just as quickly as it came and doesn’t deviate nor distract too much from the album’s overall vibe.

Even though much of Awaken, My Love!’s influence and inspiration can trace its roots and artistry from the aforementioned artists and other musical acts of the 70’s, modern influences such as hints and glimpses of fellow Atlanta artists Outkast can also be heard throughout the album’s run time. ‘Baby Boy’ one of the standout cuts on Awaken, My Love! bares striking similarity to Outkast’s ‘Toilet Tisha’ especially when one compares Glover’s vocal delivery to that of Andre 3000’s. Whether intentional or not, this comes as no surprise, seeing that Outkast themselves can trace much of their influence from and are just as much a product of Parliament-Funkadelic as well. Either way, it’s a beautiful observation to see just how much the musical influence transcending both time and genres that each respective artists have had on one another.

Needless to say Awaken, My Love! clearly influenced by the soul and funk sounds of the 70s, it seeks to emulate, comes out of left field, and all but completely diverges from the modern Hip-Hop and R&B stylistic elements that the Atlanta artist has come to been known for in the past. Awaken, My Love! signifies a daring musical evolution and a risky artistic position in Glover’s career that has been, exciting and thrilling to some listeners while confounding and disappointing others who were expecting a project more along the lines of his earlier, more contemporary and commercially accessible works. However, Glover dares to go where only a few of his contemporary musical peers such as Kendrick Lamar, Thundercat, D’Angelo, Dâm-Funk and Robert Glasper have gone and completely revels in every single moment of it. His true range and virtuosity as a musician is truly realized here on Awaken, My Love! daring to break away and be completely different; not allowing itself to be boxed in by the narrow constraints of contemporary musical trends or limited to just one single lane or clearly defined category, perhaps not unlike Glover himself.

Much like other ‘throwback’ albums that have been released over the past year such as Anderson .Paak and producer Knxledges’s Yes Lawd! or even Bruno Mars’ 24K Magic, Awaken, My Love! is an top tier album in the same vein that works tirelessly to beautifully capture the vitality and spirit of the music of yesteryear and the artist who laid the foundation for where we are musically today, while packaging and updating the formula to appeal to modern audiences. While Awaken, My Love! may come as a surprise curveball to longtime fans who were expecting a more orthodox Hip-Hop offering in the vein of Because the Internet, it is a welcomed breath of fresh for those of us who yearn for the unexpected and unpredictable which has seemingly grown more and more scarce in the music industry.

Awaken, My Love! is by far one of the most creative, innovative and surprising hits of the year that will almost surely be up for a variety awards come next year. It is a beautiful reminder that a healthy amount spontaneity and unpredictability can pay off in big ways and that there are still artists in the mainstream realm who aren’t afraid to take chances and push the envelope. Awaken, My Love! is sincerely one of the best albums to be released this year and definitely a top 5 contender. You don’t want to sleep on this one, listen to it today!

Awaken, My Love! is available now to purchase in stores everywhere and available to stream on Tidal, Spotify, Apple Music & iTunes.

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