The third album from Childish Gambino is a sonic blast of backward looking futurism.
The time tripping Awaken, My Love is funky, spacey and soulfully psychedelic and full of fuzzed-out guitars, lush strings, bold background singers and deep talking bass lines.
Above all that is the expressive funk/soul styling of all around Renaissance man, Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino, comedy writer, producer and stand-up comedian.
His collaborator in this spaced-out soulfest is producer/instrumentalist Ludwig Goransson, as on the previous Childish Gambino albums.
The duo clearly has a sweet tooth for the freedom loving funkadelic spirit and has a handle on the wide-open style, where the only rules are that they must have funky riffs and pretty chords, preferably jazzy ones.
Gambino’s kitchen sink ethos works dramatically from the starting song, Me and Your Mama. It lingers on a seductive, candlelight and wine mood before blasting into a burning riff with Gambino in a George Clinton approved vocal performance. Boogieman cops a similar vibe and while Gambino’s inspiration is taken from ‘70s soul/rock/funk fusion, he understands the freedom in the style. Anything goes but keep it cool and funky.
Many songs on Awaken, My Love have tempo shifts and key changes that serve to excite the song rather than get flashy. With this unfettered creativity, it’s expected that things can get weird and they do.
On Zombies, Gambino intones his fear of flesh eating undead over a laid-back R&B groove that percolates underneath. California is a strange song with a melodyned-to-death vocal that threatens to crash the party. This last song is the only glitch.
Glover and Goransson are a pair who tap into altered moods in their quest for tripped-out soul sounds. Riot and Redbone stand out as poster songs for the duo’s funky experimentation.
Riot is an avalanche of raw sound track soul and post psychedelic sounds. It’s a blur of funky noise hitting your face. Redbone is the opposite – a sunny song with a hopeful vibe and a gorgeous hook. Glover, who’s always in character, squeezes every bit of nuance from his vocal.
Awaken, My Love is a high-stakes update on the space funk/soul vibe and Childish Gambino plays the field for all it’s worth.
– Dean Gordon-Smith is a Vernon-based musician who reviews the latest releases for The Morning Star every Friday.