Childish Gambino - 3.15.20 Music Album Reviews

Donald Glover’s got big hooks and big ideas, but his spiritual largesse is weighed down by impulses carried halfway to their endpoints and moments of frustrating pretense.

About 40 minutes into his new album, Donald Glover asks a simple question: “Where are those subtle men?” At times, he’s totally unqualified to answer. The record’s first full song, which I swear is called “Algorhythm,” opens with an industrial groan, as Glover growls: “So very scary, so binary/Zero or one/Like or dislike, coal mine canary/I dream in color, not black and white.” It’s all very the regional manager just watched Blade Runner and wants to talk about it. But a few bars after that passage, “Algorhythm” opens up into its hook—bright, free, danceable in spite of itself. Like all of Childish Gambino’s music since 2013’s Because the Internet, 3.15.20 is studded with little hooks and big ideas that serve as lures. Its spiritual largesse is weighed down by impulses carried halfway to their endpoints and moments of frustrating pretense.

These songs, which were recorded over several years with the Inglewood producer DJ Dahi and Glover’s longtime collaborator, the Swedish composer Ludwig Goransson, move from pulsing four-on-the-floor exercises to Prince-lite. There are times (“32.22”) when he sounds like Travis Scott clearing his throat before breakfast, and others (the excellent “42.26,” previously released as “Feels Like Summer”) when Glover lulls you into a simmering hypnosis. So the album—titled after the date it was originally streamed online, most of its song titles mere timestamps—is not a clear retro pastiche like 2016’s “Awaken, My Love!”, which mined ’70s funk with occasionally dazzling results. But it’s not exactly tethered to the present, either. Dahi, unsurprisingly, says that some early versions of songs had a kind of “The Love Below energy”: “12.38,” which features a nearly four-minute documentation of a mushroom trip, is sort of a riff on André 3000’s “Vibrate.”

3.15.20 comes after a decade of unqualified success for Glover. The 36-year-old, who grew up a Jehovah’s Witness just outside of Atlanta and began writing for Tina Fey’s 30 Rock just as he was graduating from NYU, starred in another NBC sitcom, Community, before creating one of the decade’s most original screen projects in Atlanta. He released more music to increasing critical acclaim (or at least diminishing disdain). And contrary to internet rumor, he did not become the next Spider-Man, but he was cast in the Lion King remake and a Star Wars spinoff. He made the leap from sitcoms and mixtapes to superstardom, all while seeming to reject what superstardom requires.

Yet it always feels as if Glover is in the middle of a game of tonal Russian roulette. He began the decade making clumsy post-Graduation rap, defensive and full of treacly confession. As time went on he became more withholding, on record and in public performance. He announced his departure from Community with a series of notes handwritten at a Residence Inn (“I’M SCARED PEOPLE WILL FIND OUT WHAT I MASTURBATE TO”). He released Because the Internet—a rewardingly messy album with a sly thematic complexity—alongside a bleak screenplay about the suddenness of death. His headlining set at last year’s Coachella felt stiff at first, but gave way to emotional monologue fragments about his father’s passing and about Nipsey Hussle’s, and some sincerely cathartic performances. Glover seems to toggle back and forth between not caring about the artifice of celebrity and mimicking the pose of someone who feels that way. He has learned to use this inscrutability to interesting effect on the screen, but very seldom, so far, on his studio albums.

At its best, 3.15.20 Trojan horses some of that terror into happy surroundings. Played in the background, “47.48” sounds like a locked-in house band; the lyrics are actually about a crushing and ever-present violence, and the tension mesmerizes. That song ends with a conversation between Glover and his young son about love—sweeter than it sounds on paper, chilling given the juxtaposition.

Glover is not always successful at adding dimension to these songs. “24.19” opens with a condescending ode to a “sweet thing” who moves to Los Angeles and can “still believe in fairy tales”; it sounds like something that would get booed out of an open-mic night. The writing can be exasperating. On the way-too-arch “12.38,” he rhymes “tulips” with “two lips”; the hook of the Ariana Grande duet, “Time,” goes, “Maybe all the stars in the night are really dreams/Maybe this world ain’t exactly what it seems.” All of this makes it surprising when Glover does land some of his more poetic bars. There’s something about the way, on “42.26,” he sings about the “men who made machines that want what they decide.” And on “19.10”—an album highlight, a grim song that’s given too much forward motion to brood—he says: “To be happy really means that someone else ain’t.”

That last line is reminiscent of a quote Glover gave to the New Yorker in a 2018 profile. Riding in an SUV with the reporter, a bodyguard, and his Atlanta co-star, Zazie Beetz, Glover defends the trap music on the radio that the others are denigrating. “Y’all are forgetting what rap is,” he says. “Rap is ‘I don’t care what you think in society, wagging your finger at me for calling women “bitches”—when, for you to have two cars, I have to live in the projects.’”

As far back as 2011, Glover was rapping about how hip-hop songs are seldom given more than superficial readings. In “Be Alone” he scoffs at how his music might be wilfully mistaken for Plies’ and, implicitly, at the very notion that that would be an insult. The first music cue in the Atlanta pilot is an OJ da Juiceman song; “35.31,” from this new album, sounds like a children’s version of another one. To be clear, this is an excellent thing. On that song, Glover is playful, knowing, leaning into his gifts for melody and charm—doing all this in service of something much darker or, if you prefer, finding what can be playful within that darkness.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Childish Gambino - 3.15.20 Music Album Reviews Childish Gambino - 3.15.20 Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 31, 2020 Rating: 5


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