Label: Glassnote Records
Released: 2n December 2016
As 2016 staggers rather gracelessly towards the exit, it’s at least dropping some more great records. After A Tribe Called Quest returned with one of the best hip hop albums of an already strong year, Donald Glover, aka Childish Gambino has wisely jumped ship, abandoning rap for an intense, bruised warm soul sound in his third LP.
Sonically, “Awaken, My Love!” is gorgeous. The songs are deeply rooted in classic soul and funk, with simple, groove-heavy basslines, retro-sounding synthesizers and plenty of gospel singers. It’s sex music in the way Marvin Gaye envisioned it, although given a distinctive twist via some subtle modern elements and Glover’s impressive vocal performance. He sounds like he’s been singing like this for years – powerful, dramatic and commendably brave with both his array of vocal styles and his songwriting choices. For an album that comes dangerously close to sounding like an imitation of a classic, a little too predictable, Glover manages to pull it off like he just invented this stuff.
There are highlights throughout: the dark, seductive yet desperate opener ‘Me and Your Mama’ and the more positive Gospel-pop of ‘Have Some Love’ set the tone perfectly – this record is loaded with hooks – ones that admittedly sound fairly familiar, but performed refreshingly enough to feel timeless. The one-two of the chilling slow dance of ‘Zombies’ and the excitable freakout of ‘Riot’ form the peak of the record. After the interesting blend of reggae, surf and funk on the sunny ‘California’ the record slumbers into a more relaxed comedown stage – the songs are not as immediate, but refuse to get boring – and ‘Stand Tall’ delivers a strong multi-part closer.
“Awaken, My Love!” is perhaps even better than the first couple of singles suggested. It is not just a tribute to classic pop music, but rather Glover’s first great contribution to it: consistent yet eclectic, at times dark and alluring – it’s a wonderfully warm album to lose yourself in despite the cold.
Joe Gilbertson @beekeepxr