Donald Glover has had quite the 2016, that much is certain. Between orchestrating a concert in California by the name of PHAROS and riding off into the sunset with Atlanta’s stellar first season reception in mind…it’s a great year for Donald Glover and what better way to end a successful year of acting and creating a makeshift concert of alien proportions other than to drop an album that’s a major upheaval from your last project Because The Internet? The results will surprise you because AML! is a funk infused trip of the sounds of yesteryear combined with new age sensibilities delivered by Gambino himself.
The project opens with one of the two singles he released for AML! Me and Your Mama. The song is a stirring slow burn of a song that keeps it’s hinges on with the support of the guitar that gains weight as a time goes on. After two minutes, the track explodes into Gambino arriving with all of the singing capabilities that’ll stretch just how far you think he can go. It’s easy to dismiss the lyrics as screeching and screaming but he’s telling a romantically charged story of the aptly named “me and your mama” and that begins the underlying theme that Gambino weaves across the eleven tracks. Messages of love, living your life, respect, and unity for your fellow man populate the album. Have Some Love drums its way to the top with the “sing around the campfire” type of mood and the hook echos that exact sentiment, “Have a word for your brother Have some time for one another Really love one another It’s so hard to find”
Gambino dabbles with the funky sounds that’re all over the album quite profoundly on Boogieman, He flexes his vocal range providing a creepy range of verses going from strong to cool and collected and back again behind psychedelic levels of production. The easiest comparisons would be towards the likes of Flying Lotus and George Clinton. What Childish is doing with the beats and instruments involved is a far cry from what we’re used to. It’s a collision of different sounds, that given an exact segment of a song can be described as either riding a calm wave or a wave making an about face into further uncharted territory. Zombies is Gambino in his more mellow state with a hauntingly seductive hook with Kari Faux whose no stranger to working with him. The song comes off as a warning for the “zombies” whether it people or something after you. He sings, not raps, through the song with the background vocals, whispers and jolts wading through it all providing a quieter segue into the explosive Blaxploitation rock and roll styled Riot. The energy across the track is self evident, the flow and lyrics bring about an old school funk sound laced with new school sensibilities. The chorus will stick with you long after the short song is over, Gambino doing his best impression of a screeching rock and roll star amidst the spacey tinged beat and telling us, the audience to get down baby.
Redbone one of two singles that was released prior to the album switches up the mood and tempo of the album again. Gambino is nearly unrecognizable here as his voice is adjusted to varying degrees and it works for him. The calm steady pace of the drums and the chord stringing in the back all lend to the dreamscape style atmosphere of the song. Lyrics leave Gambino’s vocal chords with no effort on this track. He’ll have you snapping your fingers and nodding along in no time, even when talking about relationships beyond repair and making sure you’re aware because “niggas creeping.” The next song is the outlier on the entire album, California. It acts as the interlude of sorts for the album with Gambino again mixing it up with his voice to tell a story of the “mama” and the bubbly pop beat provide for a track that’s both a departure from what the album is built on and hinting to what we’ll hear topic wise for the remaining tracks.
Terrified is the dark, slow driven, and melodic tune that begins to bring the album to a close. The slow stirring approach and repetitive nature to the song adds to the nighttime intimacy of it. The song bows out with JD McCrary providing a pleading voice of emotion that cuts deep and increases the layers to Terrified. Baby Boy is an ode to Gambino’s newborn child. It’s written all over the drums, his crooning, the personality and strings elevate this track into a beautiful solo. This is the song you play out of pure love and adoration for someone close to you, nothing else needs to be said about this fantastic track. The Night Me And Your Mama Met is the buildup of instruments and serves as a cool time to Baby Boy. The chorus sounds like that of angels lowly and in tune chiming in and leading to the climax that marks the crescendo of the track. It essentially fits the definition of letting the beat ride. Finally, we end our journey with Stand Tall and does Gambino leave on a high note. Stand Tall does about ten things all within about six minutes, it begins quiet and calm flows for a good while with Gambino serenading with his lyrics in the most normal voice we’ve heard him on the album. It’s a real technical piece of music that needs all of the moving parts to create one whole and Stand Tall highlights this: the flutes, chorus, guitar, everything connects and the lead into the second half feels like a completely different song. It becomes more digitized per se, and spins itself into another version of itself filled with sunnier production and one final yell to echo out the album.
Awaken, My Love! is an expansion of what Donald Glover can do with his sound. It’s a new look into the latest phase of his life given his parental status now. The album is an old school venture given new age sensibilities. Childish Gambino looks to the past and the sounds that were prevalent during the time and twists the funk and grooves into a partly audible letter to give to his newborn and a great collection of songs for the rest of us.