Enveloping listeners in soulful, bluesy funk and eerie, ethereal vocals, Childish Gambino plunges into the mellifluous world of psychedelia in his third LP “Awaken, My Love!”
Released Dec. 2, Childish Gambino’s newest tracks constitute a new chapter in his professional path as he moves away from the electronic influences on his 2014 EP “Kauai” and rap-centric pieces on his first full-length albums “Because the Internet” and “Camp.” Shedding his rapper persona, Childish Gambino explores his range and style, adopting various voices to sing in each of the 11 songs featured on the album. With soft, muted heartbeat percussion, twinkling chimes, bottle-blowing, trippy wah-wah pedal and rumbling bass guitar, the LP’s psychedelic symphony of sounds accentuates Childish Gambino’s honeyed, fluid vocals.
Childish Gambino’s voice maintains the transcendent, dreamlike feel and occupies high octaves as it rolls, quivers and echoes to veer from the mainstream.
The first track on the album, “Me and Your Mama,” was released as a single before the LP itself. Though it originally received mixed reviews, “Me and Your Mama” effectively sets the eerie tone present in the rest of the album. Dream sequences and breathy backup singing shift with an overlay of manic laughter to throaty ballads and deep guitar that integrate funk with soul and blues.
Also released early, “Redbone” has received widespread praise, named a current “Favorite Song” by Rolling Stone Magazine, which writes that Childish Gambino “splays helium-soul love all over a rubbery P-Funk groove.” Childish Gambino’s lofty voice reverberates and echoes over a bare, leisurely drum-beat and the wah-wah pedal and guitar: “You better believe in something … But stay woke … Now don’t you close your eyes.”
Childish Gambino offers some more upbeat tracks including “Riot” and “California,” while featuring his raw, soaring voice on “Zombies” and “Baby Boy.” He continues with a simple solo, ghostly, whispering backup vocals and a powerful base that drives the melody and compliments other synthesized-sounding elements of the accompaniment.
While “Awaken, My Love!” demonstrates Childish Gambino’s impressive creativity, it lacks strong thematic content and lyrical genius to accompany inventive instrumental and musical choices. The album does implore listeners to unite against adversity and stay strong in “Have Some Love:” “Have a word for your brother / Have some time for one another / Really love one another / It’s so hard to find.” Similarly, in the LP’s final track, “Stand Tall:” “Keep all your dreams, / Keep standing tall … If you are strong you cannot fall.” Yet “Awaken, My love!” lacks true lyrical finesse that would otherwise elevate the album. Childish Gambino should not be so quick to distance himself from hip-hop and rap.