buzz Factor: 6/10
Best Tracks: “Me And Your Mama,” “Zombies, Redbone,” “The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” “Stand Tall”
Worst Tracks: “Riot,” “California”
Donald Glover—sometimes better known as his stage name Childish Gambino—seems to be able to do it all. He’s a writer, actor, rapper, stand-up comedian, and show creator. Now for “Awaken, My Love!,” Donald aims to prove himself as a singer with a new soul/funk sound. While credit must be given for pursuing a new sound, there is unfortunately not too much special about this record.
With the singles “Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” (which remain as standout tracks), it seemed like this album would have tracks with bits of hard funk sprinkled throughout. It all works best under the conditions that Donald explores his full vocal range, and that the instrumentals remain odd and inventive— it’s a challenge to predict where some of the tracks are headed on the first listen. “Redbone” especially just seems to be a cohesive song, with all the best elements Glover has to offer being put on display. “Stand Tall” (and even “Zombies” to an extent) follow in this same path, even if they aren’t as strong.
Where the album fails to deliver are the points where the album is abrupt and almost unfinished. Some tracks literally have an abrupt ending, which gives the impression that the track wasn’t really going anywhere to begin with. “Riot” and “California” are both under 3 minutes in an album that feels focused around ballads, and don’t seem to play a role in the album as a unit. The lyrics are also spread very thin, so some topics on the album don’t become fully explored. Even with “Me and Your Mama,” Donald is only able to deliver lyrics for a third of the track, with the intro and outro instrumentals feeling unnecessarily lengthy.
The instrumentals are able to capture old sounds well (“The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” which is an instrumental track, is the best example), but they can be too soft for their own good. There are electric moments on this album that become oddly contrasted with sounds that would be more appropriate for elevator music or lullabies. Synthesizers and other electronic production are a welcome addition from the modern age, but any use of vocal effects are completely unnecessary. On “California” it’s clear that Glover is trying to do something unique with his delivery, but having autotune on his voice doesn’t create a clean result.
Overall, it’s clear that “Awaken, My Love!” will be a polarizing album for fans and new listeners alike. Not only due to the new direction, but also due to the amount of sounds that Donald is trying to encapsulate on this record. It also leaves a sense of wanting more, not just in the production, but in the story that the album is trying to tell. If Donald continues with this sound there’s a chance it could become more developed on his next project, but for now there may not be that much to work with.