And the evolution of Childish Gambino continues. Or Donald Glover, as we’re not sure where the distinction lies any more. Just as his early work in the guise of rapping alter-ego seemed like a bit of fun, at times even goofy like Troy from Community, his departure from the sitcom and movement towards shows like Atlanta also reflected his mindset as a musical artist.
Awaken, My Love! feels like a title that adequately measures the contents within. There’s a rousing new sound from the very opener, with Me and Your Mama a fusion of blues and soul, a raspy gospel-backed track that sears Gambino’s identity as anything other than childish. And if that title is an exclamation, than it’s a pretty fair representation of the blunt force with which Glover hammers his new creative stride.
Ironically enough, the feels like a record for the, well, community. Glover is playing around with breath and sound on Have Some Love, but it seems rooted in tribal beats and handclap melodies. The guitar and blaxploitation sound of Boogieman are both cinematic yet experimental, while Riot could inspire just that with it’s James Brown flexing.
Not all of it works, and it feels like sometimes Childish Gambino is pushing the envelope in an effort of rebellion without truly knowing where to go next. For that reason, the posturing gets tiring after a while with songs like Zombies, and only when the more measured psych-soul of Redbone comes along do we feel some respite. That’s the crowning jewel of this piece, a blissed-out love letter to sunshine and smoke, and soul that seems thoroughly modern in all the right ways.
The rest of it is occasionally hard to get through, often just wrenches from the chest of Glover rather than proper semblances of song. Baby Boy is well-pitched if overwrought, and closing track Stand Tall is too overtly preachy, lacking the subtlety that even bigger artists have brought this year. It feels like Glover is still finding his identity, keeping his eyes on adulthood but unable to resist those Childish Gambino whims that scupper his ascent to the big-time. On this evidence it seems he’s just a small distance away, though.