Awaken, My Love! is a powerful cultivation of musical dreams, especially if you are tired of soulless, dispassionate records and have been waiting for something that is an appropriate backdrop to the convoluted times we live in. The incredibly talented Childish Gambino has dropped his latest album, an eclectic and funky musical novella that makes me yearn for summery afternoons lounging around drinking minty cocktails (or like, craft beers, if that’s still a thing).
The incomparable verve of Childish Gambino has been evident since Camp, his talents only growing and diversifying since 2011, which have lent themselves to the notable Because the Internet and Kauai. As Gambino is ridiculously multifaceted as a person, identifying as a musician, actor, comedian and writer, it is no surprise that his albums would emulate that same wild diversity.
Admittedly, it was immensely difficult to decide which song was the standout track on Awaken, My Love! partially owed to the fact that each of them was so stunningly cultivated, and partially because each song contained six different ones. In true Gambino fashion, Awaken, My Love! strikes a fine line between dynamic musicianship and super groovy tracks that, in my humble opinion, far surpass his older work. Also, another exciting aspect of this album is that Gambino has released a ‘virtual reality’ limited edition vinyl of it which can be found here.
Despite being praised and known for his rap abilities, Awaken, My Love! features very little rap, instead surrounded by impassioned cries soaked in ‘70s funk and soul, that makes this album, as Andre Grant so excellently noted, ‘protest music’ right when we need it the most. It is also worth noting the incredibly unique and beautiful cover art, and the romanticism surrounding the album title itself.
Additionally, the overt passion and intellect of Childish Gambino makes it hard not to consider the political implications of Awaken, My Love! The song titles each read like a step forward – a steady march toward an undetermined goal – reinforcing the idea that this album is a subtle salute to everyone missing unity and in need of musical relief in the midst of so many social and cultural injustices.
For instance, the album starts with the delicate chiming of Me and Your Mama, which slowly morphs into a sultry romantic track, and then again into a rising, bass-heavy track, as he asks ‘let me into your heart’. The second track, Have Some Love, is reminiscent of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, What’s Happening Brother – a connection touching on African-American strife in the United States that is especially relevant today. Gambino’s lyrics gently urge have a word for your brother / have some time for one another / really love one another / it’s so hard to find.
The most prominently political track on this album is Boogieman, opening with the deeply relevant if you point a gun / at my rising sun / though we’re not the one / but in the bounds of your mind / we have done the crime. The song is raucous in nature as it delves into themes of racial fear in the United States. Gambino’s blatant use of the ‘n-word’ is similarly unapologetic, fading out with clear police radios in the background and overlapped by a sinister, villainous chuckling.
The fiercely funky and borderline psychedelic notes in Riot deserves to be heard at full volume in the middle of a festival, or the kind of track you would hear live at a niche bar somewhere in Ponsonby, you know? Following this is Redbone, an appropriately earthy tune that bounces along under the crooning of if you want it, yeah / you can have it, oh oh.
Aside from Riot and Redbone, my favourite track on this album is California. It starts with a groovy, upbeat motif, Gambino using slight pitch manipulation to sing the hilariously catchy she wants to move to California / she must have f-ing lost her mind. The track is fun, vibrant and quirky, utilizing several earthy instruments like bongos, maracas, and adding to the jauntiness of it all is the addition of a pan flute.
The album ends on Stand Tall, an appropriate farewell song that is easily the most tender of the lot. It begins with Gambino stripped down to his rich, soulful voice, musing the melancholic how this used to feel so far and free / now these broken souls are all I see. The track later becomes a synthy anthem, and then a straight-up R&B tune with falsetto voices singing keep all your dreams / keep standing tall in the background. It ends abruptly (the Irish goodbye of songs), but leaves you with the feeling that you aren’t the same person you were before you heard this album.
Awaken, My Love! is an entire world wrapped into 11 wonderful tracks. It worships at the feet of ‘70s era music, and casts parallels between the political landscape of then and now, with Glover himself noting that ‘there’s something about that ’70s black music that felt like they were trying to start a revolution…’ It contemplates humanity in a raw, energetic and diverse way, and is wickedly observant in the way only Childish Gambino can be. The funk train that is Awaken, My Love! has arrived just in time for summer, and we are jumping on-board without a look back, bidding farewell to the debris of this year and heading straight into the revolution.
- Me and Your Mama
- Have Some Love
- Baby Boy
- The Night Me and Your Mama Met
- Stand Tall