Album Review: Awaken My Love

Naveen Bhatia, Webmaster

Retro-styled music is clearly on the rise, as the 20/20 Experience, by Justin Timberlake in 2013, Uptown Funk, by Bruno Mars in 2014, 1989, by Taylor Swift in 2014, and the fast-rising soundtrack to La La Land, show. Awaken My Love, by Childish Gambino is just another part of this narrative. Do not be deceived by your first listen to this album: it is not just a James Brown-esque retro album. In fact, this album ventures into the future with its dense soundscapes, sudden changes, and wildly modern production techniques.

My first impression of the album gave me a transcendental experience where Gambino carried me away with thick synths, big transitions, and driving beats. In the opening song “Me and Your Mama,” there are four distinct sections: the lullaby-esque beginning has a soundscape of bells, synthesizers, staccato voices, and electronic drums. Two minutes in, the synths swell and there is a massive transition. Overlaid with a terrifying chuckle, a pleading choir, and live drums, this section of the song becomes a rock-funk groove. What makes this part so modern is its asymmetry; when listening with headphones, some instruments are panned all the way to the left, some to the right. This section fades to lyricism, ultimately devolving into a shriek characteristic to funk, finally giving way to a strummed guitar with a piano, bass, and heavy snare, which fade in a subtle synth solo. All this is to say the song is representative of the album-modern production techniques juxtaposed with retro styles.

Another interesting combination of the old and new on this album is “Redbone.” Funky basses, high orchestral bells, and ambient effects abound throughout this song, reminiscent of a slow funk ballad. Its catchy, plucky bass line plays second fiddle, though, to what truly stands out: the passionate lyrics about a breakup. Towards the end, however, the bass begins to take over, as do other synths, creating a medley of bass, piano, a melodic synth, and Gambino intermittently repeating, “But stay woke.”

Though this album is fresh, foreign, and retro, it is not altogether surprising that Gambino went down this lyrical-funk path. In the song “Sober” from Kauai, he showcases his singing voice, and in “Shadows” on Because the Internet, we hear the first hints of funk in the bass, and the first murmurs of Gambino toying with nonlinear song structures. In addition, Gambino has been firmly rooted in hip-hop and R&B, genres which rely heavily on sampling funk music. As a result, this album is also paying homage to what gives him inspiration especially in his new song “The Night Me and Your Mama Met,” where he uses the exact format of “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic, where a guitar plays a four bar rhythm, and a wailing distorted guitar solos over. Where Gambino is going to go next, though, remains to be seen. Will he continue down the funk path, go back to hip-hop, or try something new entirely: Dare I say a rap-jazz album?

 

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