Awaken, My Love! Album Review
Released December 2, 2016
Genre: Neo-Psychedelia, Psychedelic Soul, Funk Rock, R&B
Donald Glover has had a busy year: a new TV show, the PHAROS shows, a kid, and now this? It’s about time that we finish this landmark year in Glover’s life out with a bang. Personally, I always found Glover’s past efforts cloying, derivative, and – at times – utterly horrendous. So before going into this review, let it be known: for the past five years or so I have been adamantly and consistently a strong opposing critic of Glover’s music. Just when his persona was about to reach the same of peak of irrelevance of, hmm let’s say J. Cole (for me), Glover drops two stunningly bold and electrifying tracks that pulled me to attention. Believe it or not, I have to hand it to him: Glover finally has created a record that I enjoy.
Now that isn’t to say that Awaken, My Love! isn’t without its hangups.The vocal performances on “California” and “Boogieman” are put through so many effects, the former being one of the most excruciating listening experiences on the album. Glover’s incoherent rambling put through auto-tune (?) makes for a rather unpleasant experience; it sounds like as if he has lost his mind, and not in a good way. It’s a bold move for Glover to change his voice (frankly, I found his rapping voice as irritating), but on this particular track its done in an unflattering manner that is neither intriguing or engaging. Glover’s other vocal performances on this record are superb, however, and a welcome shift from his more PBR&B & hip-hop centric tracks, such as the corny ‘Sober”.
On “Redbone”, Glover’s pitch shifted vocals bubble with paranoia with lyrics about infidelity and “staying woke”; his voice is the main focal point on this consistent track for it rarely changes drastically. But throughout it’s 5 1/2 min length different vocal melodies and altered music/vocal structures constantly shift the atmosphere around, making for an intoxicating listen. Glover channels his inner Funkadelic with the honest-to-God inspired “Me & Your Mama” & “Have Some Love,” the former sounding eerily similar to “Can You Get To That” with its juxtaposition of gospel-choir-esque vocals and an acoustic guitar-loop.
“Me And Your Mama” is more direct however; beginning with a slow-burner of an “overture” – complete with trap hi-hats, beautiful backing vocals, and classic 90s R&B-esque synths – the song suddenly bursts to life about two minutes in. Glover embodies his inner James Brown here, with a fuzzy bass and bombastic drums to compliment; it’s Glover completely unhinged and the entire track builds and builds into a wonderfully chaotic and psychedelic finish. As an opener it’s a big wake up call, and a glimpse of the big shift in Glover’s style. Funk penetrates this record’s style heavily more so, particularly on the aforementioned “Boogieman”; where an excellent riff careens up and down with some nice, vintage-sounding drums that are actively peppered throughout. It follows in this trend of Glover’s heavy Funkadelic influence, and it shows in its execution. The rather silly “Zombies,” uses an auto-tune inflection on Glover’s voice that is undeniably goofy; combined with the lyrics it makes for a frivolous yet admirable track.
“Riot” is perhaps the most eccentric and, objectively, the best track on this record. Everything is on display here, and Glover is an absolute commanding force on this aptly-titled track. “Baby Boy’s” Stevie Wonder-esque keys throw us back to early 70s Motown; the soothing vocals and descending bass are all nicely handled. It’s a smooth, solid, and excellent funk lullaby that finds Glover (possibly?) singing to his newborn child in a sweet, tender moment hidden in a very nuanced and daring record. Rising blues guitar wunderkind Gary Clarke Jr. makes an appearance on “The Night Me And Your Mama Met”, offering some very bluesy riffs over some more choir vocals. It’s a beautiful track, and as an interlude, it’s very pleasing to the ears. It becomes incredibly bland until Clark comes in, and that helps it from becoming a total sleeper of a track.
To close the record, Glover’s *actual* singing voice appears; that is until he brings in a wide array of bells & whistles on the unnecessarily long “Stand Tall”. At six minutes & eleven seconds, he wears the length dry and encapsulates practically every trend he covers within that time span. If this record was an essay, this is the kind of conclusion paragraph that teachers throw A’s at. However, there are dangers with being too redundant, and mulling over the same topics again, and again, and again; he falls victim to that, but it’s very minor compared to the high points on this record.
Awaken, My Love! is a bold release from Glover, and it shows in his execution and in his daring stylistic shift; it’s also his best attempt at emulating one of the most pivotal records of his, and our, time: Maggot Brain. While the low points detract heavily from the experience (and easily come off as Maggot Brain cop-outs), the high points make up for the anticipation and mystery surrounding this album’s release; I’m especially glad there’s no rapping here, to further show Glover’s dedication to his new phase in his work. I’m probably inherently wired to just not like anything Glover does in the world of rap; but as far as his venture into funk, soul, and neo-psychedelia goes, I am undoubtedly a fan.
PRETTY NEAT MUSIC
FAV TRACKS: Me And Your Mama, Riot, Redbone, Baby Boy
LEAST FAV TRACK: California