[Author’s Note: Inspired by Spencer hopping on here with that two-post hot streak a couple weeks ago (it was a good run!), I have decided to start posting album recommendations on here when I come across an album I think you folks might find interesting, or when there’s just an album I like that I feel like talking at someone (you guys) about, or when I’m just bored. If you happen to take one of these albums for a spin yourself, feel free to tell me your thoughts in the comments.]
A couple weeks ago I found myself home alone for a few hours after work on a Friday. Just me and the cat. Rachel was in Forest Lake having dinner with her parents, and I didn’t want to drive down because I was in this weird post-work zone where I both felt weary and also didn’t want to sit down. I needed a shave, and there was this big pile of dishes spilling from the sink onto the counter that needed doing. So I stayed home and did a bunch of mundane household chores, and while I did them, I threw on Cocoa Sugar, which is the new joint by this Scottish trio called Young Fathers. I’ve never heard any of their other music, but that night I listened to this album three times in a row, back to back. I’m honestly not sure if I’ve ever done that before with any other album. But when it was finished, my mood was turned around–I felt energized and productive.
The reason I decided to listen to this album, specifically was because I thought its cover art (above) was interesting. I am thinking about buying it on vinyl. I don’t really know what you’d call Young Fathers, in terms of genre. They’re based in Glasgow, but two of the three members are African immigrants. Cocoa Sugar’s sound inhabits a zone between rap, R&B, pop, and a mostly secular version of gospel. It’s really weird without being inaccessible, which is why I decided to bring it up here. If I were going to recommend tracks to start with, I would probably go with the first one, “See How,” which has an immediately arresting, minimalist beat built out of what sounds like a horn sample, followed by “Border Girl,” which is one of the late-album highlights. But it’s also not a very long album, so I would probably more recommend just giving it a straight-through listen.
Connor: For Christmas, I received a telescope, and I’ve been trying my hand at space photography with limited success. Thing is, it can take an hour to get a few decent shots, so I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to listen to music. One night, I tried out Spotify’s “Classic Punk” playlist. As often happens with Spotify curated playlists, it was 1/3 juvenile dribble, 1/3 ads, and 1/3 awesome stuff. Part of that last third was the title track for Television’s Marquee Moon, which I thought was one of the best songs I’d heard in a long time.
The album isn’t perfect: the vocals can be weak at times and a couple of the songs, like “Venus” and “Torn Curtain” feel a bit underwhelming, and “Marquee Moon” overshadows the rest of the album in terms of quality and length (its one fourth of the album).That said, I think if “Marquee Moon” had been released separately, Marquee Moon would still be a great sounding album. The rhythms are snappy but not overbearing, the lyrics are wistful and clever, and the guitar-work is just rad. Then, when you add the title track back in, which seriously blows my mind every time I hear it, you’re adding great to great. I seriously love this album.
Verdict: 1/1 lightning striking itself, would listen to again.
Alright guys, I’ve had my chance. Now come dump all over this thing I love! Is it too maudlin? Are the parts incoherent? Does the album lack something you’d want or expect from a more modern record?
Gerthquake: Connor, I was extremely excited when you picked this album, as I’ve alluded to in the group Facebook message we use to run this biz. There were three big reasons for my excitement: 1) I already knew this album front to back, meaning I didn’t even need to listen to it if I didn’t want to (I did anyway.) 2) I really like this album. 3) I was profoundly surprised by your choice, and indeed surprised you’d even heard of the album, much less enjoyed it, so I felt like I learned something about you (or at least about your musical taste) just by the fact that you’d picked it.
I also really like that you came across the title track on the “Classic Punk” playlist. I just looked that playlist up, and I’m sure that among that crowd “Marquee Moon” must have stuck out like a sore thumb on a hand with no other fingers. Television are *technically* one of the founding American punk rock bands. They don’t fit the stereotypical sound of “punk” as it’s been codified through decades of bands imitating each other, though. Their punk-ness has more to do with their time and place, and the bands they played with; they didn’t write two chord songs about sniffing glue, but they did literally help build the stage at CBGB in New York, which was the main venue the first American punk bands played at. (As a sidenote, I would gladly read your explanations of which songs you consider “juvenile dribble” and which are “awesome stuff” from that playlist.)
Anyway, I’m not going to dump on this thing that you love because I also love it. I agree with the broad strokes of your assessment: “rad” is the correct word for the guitar work; Tom Verlaine’s voice is pretty annoying sometimes. Honestly I think a lot of his best moments as a vocalist are the spots where he throws in spoken interjections: the “I ain’t waitin’, uh uh” part in “Marquee Moon” right before the first guitar solo, and the spots in “Prove It” where he says “just the facts” and “this case is closed.”
I will go to bat for “Venus” and “Torn Curtain,” although I agree they’re not the best songs on the album. “Venus” is really elevated for me by its guitar solo section, which transports the whole song to a more beautiful, jazzier dimension. I also like the “did you feel low?” “Not at all” “HUH!?” call-and response vocals. “Torn Curtain” is probably my least favorite song on the album, but I think it serves its purpose, closing things out on an appropriately spooky note.
It might seem a little obvious above to say “Venus” is redeemed by its guitar solo. Marquee Moon is one of the greatest guitar albums ever made. Every song has a guitar solo, and every song gets kicked up a notch when the solo hits. The best song on the album is the one that has two guitar solos. The guitar solos are individually credited on the CD, but you actually don’t need those credits to suss out who’s playing what: Tom Verlaine takes the long, weird, thin guitar solos, and Richard Lloyd takes the concise ones that feel like little songs of their own–you can hear the contrast clearly on “Marquee Moon” itself, where Lloyd’s solos is this 30 second outburst, and then Verlaine’s is several minutes long and kind of goes nowhere but stills feels satisfying. Lloyd’s solos have a fatter tone because he would memorize his solos and then record two takes on top of each other; the effect is clearest on his solo on “Elevation;” Verlaine, on the other hand, was too improvisatory to doubletrack his solos. It’s not just the solos that make the album, though: Marquee Moon has endured for 40 years because the way Verlaine and Lloyd wrote little interlocking clean guitar parts was really distinctive in the musical context of the ’70s.
I would argue that Marquee Moon is also one of the greatest cool intro albums of all time. The title track may in fact have the coolest intro ever. Very few bands write even one intro on that level in their career, but Television sandwiches it between the also incredible intros of “Friction” and “Elevation,” on the same album. The intros of “See No Evil,” “Guiding Light,” and “Prove It” are second tier but still pretty cool. “Torn Curtain’s” intro is simple but very effective at setting the mood (listen to that fucking drum roll!) The intro of “Friction” in particular is really interesting to me because I think it illustrates, musically, the way Television were distinctively of their time while also being really strange and unique among ’70s bands: The first moments of the song actually bear a really strong resemblance to the beginning of the Eagles song “Back in the Fast Lane,” which is about as ’70s as it gets, but then the beat drops, and with it comes that totally alien, menacing guitar riff (if you don’t know what I’m talking about, listen to the song again and you will); no one else was writing stuff that sounded like that, man.
Revisiting this album has given me a slightly greater appreciation of its lyrics, which I always thought were mostly pseudo-poetic nonsense that became sort of compelling because they were sung by a really fucked-up, weird voice. And I still think that’s basically what they are, but, I don’t know, I just like that more now. I really dig the chorus of “Prove It,” where Verlaine seems to take on the role of a film noir detective pondering his line of work as a Sisyphian metaphor: “This case, this case I been workin’ on so long,” he sings, wearily. The case is life itself, man. The part in “Marquee Moon” where the Cadillac pulls out of the graveyard and then immediately pulls back into the graveyard is still stupid, though.
If you Google Marquee Moon and read about it before you listen to it, you’re going to come into it with a lot of “classic album” baggage, so as a guy who was acutely aware of its reputation (as the 129th greatest album ever made according to Rolling Stone) going into my first listen, I am excited to see what you all think of it going in with (I assume) little knowledge of that shit (unless you’re reading this before you listen to it.) It’s interesting to hear stuff that’s acclaimed and influential with beginner’s ears, and just form your own opinion on it.
Verdict: Shreds, and Verlaine wails in a literal sense, but is not, actually, a good singer from a technical standpoint.
Connor: That’s some good insight, Gerth, I didn’t know pretty much any of that. And you’re right, the guitar solos are flippin’ rad. Regarding the playlist in question, an example of what I would consider “juvenile dribble” would be “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies (I deleted my link because yours contributes more to the discussion and I don’t want two). To be fair, the guitar work is actually pretty good. But the lyrics and vocal quality make me use one of my precious Spotify skips when it comes on.
Gerthquake: I mostly agree with you on that Suicidal Tendencies song, but for what it’s worth it does have a pretty great video:
Easy J: Hey guys, it was neat to read both of you gushing over an album you both really love. My favorite song was not the title track, which is a bad sign. Here is the deal: I can’t do the vocals, I just can’t do it. I am just not into his voice. I am really bummed about it because the instrumentation, particularly the guitar work, is really good. The 2 guitar lines often dance as well as violin lines in classical music, that’s pretty neat.The rhythm section is never intrusive and lot of the tracks have a neat sound. Back to my favorite track, I really liked “Guiding Light” honestly mostly because the vocals seem less in the way compared to every other track on the album. I would prefer the record if it was all instrumentals, I really can’t do it, I’m sorry.
There are so many people in the world who can at least kind of sing, maybe pick one of those people to sing in a band, just sayin. 9/20 17/20 guitar work
Connor (Just passing through to remove one of the “Institutionalized” links): I’d agree that the vocal are the least good. I don’t know if I’d prefer not having them, but that’s an interesting idea.
Gerthquake: Yooooooo. Welcome to our first roundtable. Let’s get started. Don’t call it a comeback.
So for this week I selected Ka’s Honor Killed the Samurai, which came out last year, in the summer I think. I picked it as a topic of discussion partly because I think it’s a pretty good album, and partly because I felt like it sat at the intersection of two interests many of us share as a group: rap and kung-fu films.
True to its name, Honor Killed the Samurai is samurai-themed. But in this case the samurai is Ka, a mild-mannered rapper/full-time firefighter (seriously, look it up) who lives in NYC’s Brownsville neighborhood. The warrior life of the samurai is a metaphor for the struggle of getting ahead in the hardscrabble of city life under adverse circumstances, but it’s also a metaphor for the artistic process itself, as shown by the intermittent narrations about samurais stopping on the war path to compose poetry.
But also: Fuck metaphors. At the end of the day I wouldn’t like this album if it didn’t have bars. Ka is a good rapper. He’s not super-showy, though — his voice never really rises above a pretty intense mumble. I think he handles the lion’s share of his production himself, and that’s where I think this thing really shines. The beats here are barely beats at all, just a foggy soup of samples and sound effects. There aren’t really any bad songs, but there aren’t a ton of obvious standouts other than the first and last tracks; it’s a short album, and it sustains a mood instead of climaxing. The drums are extremely spare, but they’re also really effective, in this writer’s opinion. I love the muted cymbal hits that cut through the mix on “Conflicted,” which starts the album off really strong. (The terrifying bass/stringed instrument sound that starts the song off also never fails to blow me away.) It’s lonely music: I got into Ka in the dead of winter on early morning drives for work, before sunrise, the temp hovering around zero, fingers numbing on the steering wheel.
Verdict: Pocket, despite the lack of conventional drums.
So what do you other cats think of this album? Do you like the beats? Does Ka’s grim intensity convince you or lapse into melodrama? Does the weird narration enhance the mood or weird you out? Overall, does it get you right in the 36 chambers, or does it make you want to commit seppuku?
Connor: Your comparison between this album and a kung-fu movie is apt, Gerth, for more reasons than just the obvious “Guys, I’m totally like these super awesome romanticized warriors”. I’ve seen countless martial arts action films from emerging Asian film markets, and the one thing I can say about the genre is that they tend to lack in spectacle compared to our average blockbusters, but have good fundamentals: quality narratives and stylistic fights. In Honor Killed the Samurai, I think we see the rap album equivalent. There’s something so deconstructed, so raw, about the album; it doesn’t feel like so many of the other rap albums that came out last year. None of the pop-y flavor that saturates the radios and party-mixes, and none of more funky or hip-hop flavor that a purist might be looking for. Even the spoken word nature of the album separates it from other subdued raps, like the “Real Friends”-“Wolves” middle section of Pablo which comes to mind. Even Kanye at his most melancholy is more busy than Ka ever is.
Fundamentals are worth their weight in Nippon steel, and Honor Killed the Samurai has great fundamentals. The beats are soft and evocative, and the lyrics succeed on both ear-feel and content. Right now, I’m listening to it for the fourth time, and as much as I appreciate it more than on first listen, I don’t expect to come back to it for a long time. I don’t think that means I didn’t like it: there are very few kung-fu movies I revisit regularly (Red Cliff; Hero; Crouching Tiger…; Enter the Dragon; and Drunken Master are the only exceptions I can think of). Maybe it just feels more valuable as a learning experience, a signpost to other albums and styles.
Preliminary verdict: 6.5/10 toast servings, “That Cold and Lonely” earns standout of the album for rad bells.
Alex: I’ve only listened to the first few songs but so far I’m kind of bored. I can’t understand much of what Ka is saying and he doesn’t show much range in volume or emotion. And the beats are a little too sparse for me. Like, I can’t tell where the beat is. The album reminds me of a watered-down Madvillainy but less focused and less bumpin’. I think I just need to listen to it more.
Gerthquake: Alex and Connor, your takes remind me that I 1) need to burn Madvillainy onto a CD so I can listen to it in my car, and 2) still need to watch all of the kung-fu movies (except Hero) you referenced by name, Connor. (I went on a Wu-Tang Clan kick during the fall, so it’s likely at this point that the number of rap albums that sample kung-fu movies I’ve listened to is higher than the number of actual kung-fu movies I’ve watched.)
Jason (East-J): Hey all. Sorry I’m a bit late to the party, I have had a pretty weird week. After noticing the obvious warrior metaphor (which I was surprised no one had ever put together before) I really liked the album my first time through. I usually don’t like albums at first but Honor Killed The Samurai flew by. I listened primarily at work which I think was a good setting if it did make me a bit sleepy at times. Some of the repetitive beats really felt almost lullaby like which, when paired with the whispering lyrics, were very calming. I tried to share this with Nicole while we were driving back from Indy and I found this is not really very good social music as I was forced constantly to choose between hearing the lyrics and interacting with my passenger. That I think is the core flaw for me. The beats are so sparse and repetitive that the value of the lyrics is inflated. If I am not paying attention or don’t really associate with the lyrical content there isn’t a ton left to hear. Also, I don’t know if “Chill-Hop” is a recognized genre, but if it is not, I just invented it and this album defines it.
I did like it but I don’t see myself listening to it again. Good once or twice but not a classic by any means. 13.5/20.
Connor: J, I think it’s interesting you characterized it as “chill-hop”. I’d almost say it was the opposite. I felt that the simple beats and quiet lyrics monopolized my attention, where for a chill album I’d like to be able to lean back and let it wash over me. When I tried to do that with Honor…I felt like I just stopped listening to it all. I don’t know, just my experience. Anyone agree or disagree?
Spencer: I would agree with you, Connor. This album was less Ka and more meh. I found him to be a less captivating version Earl Sweatshirt. Not to say he isnt talented, but I guess less polarizing than maybe I was expecting from a Gerth pick.
I’ll be honest: I’ve listened to Coloring Book the least of any of the albums we’ve covered here so far. I never gave the album the time it was due when it came out last year, partly because a lot of music came out last year and it was kind of an off year for me and rap. The biggest thing was that I was a little hesitant about what Chance’s next project might bring.
The problem was that Acid Rap already sort of seemed like the perfect Chance album to me. It’s so good that I knew I would be disappointed if Chano just dropped an Acid Rap II, but I would also be disappointed if he’d released something that was too far off from its vibes.
I listened to Surf exactly once, and I liked it, but I’ve returned to none of it other than “Sunday Candy,” and even though that song is a classic, I wasn’t sure I wanted a Chance mixtape that took that song as its jumping off point.
I also have a pretty difficult time unreservedly loving anything that scans as too “Christian” in a positive, non-conflicted way. I could get on board with Kanye’s love-hate redemption thing on The Life of Pablo, but a full-on gospel rap record flush in the glow of new fatherhood didn’t sound like something I would be able to get into.
So I sort of avoided this album for awhile.
And when I did eventually listen to it I really had a hard time coming to terms with some of the choices on it, even though it was one of the most universally loved albums of last year, and a big, joyful, very accessible piece of work on top of that. The problem wasn’t that they were poor choices, the problem was that they were cutting edge choices, and I had a hard time letting go of the old Chance.
A really good case study is “No Problem”. I was initially weirded out by its production. The hook line is slathered in auto-tune, and it kind of made me queasy at first, and the pitch-shifted, chopped-up gospel chorus that forms the meat of the beat seemed kind of nonsensical to me, too. But with repeat listens, “No Problem” has become my go -to track on the album.
(My favorite part of the entire album might be Ha Ha Davis, the voice that says “You don’t want zero problems, big fella” at the start of “No Problem”.)
Another example is the joyously sub-verbal stuff that pops up on the first two tracks, first when Kanye says “This is the” and then follows it up with what sounds to me like a bunch of weird grunts (which Genius transcribes as “bom bom bom / bom bom bom / bom bom bom). And there’s Chance’s laughter in the hook on “No Problem”. Both are little touches that annoyed me at first and prevented me from getting into the album, but now I recognize both as touches that add to the sense of joyous abandon that characterizes much of the album. I came around to them. It could be musical Stockholme syndrome, or it could be me genuinely coming to understand what Chance and co. were going for.
Either way, I came around to those early tracks, and I got through the album and got to a point where I could appreciate the new Chance on his own terms.
The album ends strong for me with “Finish Line/Drown”and “Blessings”. One or both of them has some nice live drums, and when they showed up that’s kind of when I knew I would be able to get on the album’s level. Live instrumentation is not essential to good rap music (sometimes it even gets in the way), but when you’re friends with as many monster players as Chance is via The Social Experiment, it seems a little criminal not to make use of that on your record. (Yes, there’s a lot of brass all over the album, but if you’re really that into layered trumpet harmonies then you’re a bigger nerd than I am.)
One thing that’s nice about Chance is that he doesn’t do one type of track. He’s got a good vocabulary of different kinds of rap archetypes, and that means that he can do these genre-exercise type songs where he mixes it up with other MCs who are associated with widely different sounds in the hip-hop universe, and he can pull it off. Sometimes those songs are standouts, and sometimes they’re just welcome diverse padding in his tracklists (like “Fuck You Tahm Bout” on #10Day). “No Problem” actually kind of feels like a softer sequel to “Fuck You Tahm Bout”: it’s chorus is tough talk delivered with a shit-eating grin. “Mixtape” tries on mumbly Atlanta trap. “All Night”is modest little club banger (with more Ha Ha Davis). They all contribute to the album’s free-wheeling mood, without making it feel disjointed
Verdict: I guess I would say that this album is Pocket, because it’s defined by groove even though there aren’t a lot of hard-hitting beats, organic or otherwise. To be honest it doesn’t fit easily into Spencer’s rating/good song classification system (which I have adopted for all of my reviews here, with the addition of Wack, for things that are simply bad). You could also say that Chance’s rapping Shreds, in a way.
I wanna make up for some lost time, so I’m keepin’ this one TIGHT. Just going to write a little about each track on the album.
I’m actually just learning some of the track names from Wikipedia now because for some reason there’s a fucking hand over the tracklist on the CD case:
Which brings me to mention that, yes, my wi-fi is shitty enough that I did resort to buying this thing on CD. They sell it at Target! I bought it and two other notable 2016 albums, playing a little catch-up on the year just past.
That brings me to the first giant digression of this review. Here’s the most controversial ranking you’ll ever see:
Austin Gerth’s recent Target CD purchases, ranked:
1) The 1975’s I like it when you sleep, for you are so beautiful yet so unaware of it
2) Beyoncé’s Lemonade
3) Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love!
*(To be fair, if I were to list them by which album had the highest peaks, I would probably go with Bey, 1975, Gambino. Really hard to compete with “Formation,” “Freedom,” and “Hold Up,” the three genuine all-timers on Lemonade.)
TIIIIIGHHTTT. Back to the album:
“Me and Your Mama”
It’s a standout, and a solid introduction to the album. It’s probably the album’s best homage to depressed, political, explosively rocking soul that was being put out by Funkadelic and Sly & the Family Stone in 1970 and 1971. To its credit, the intro and the little synth doodle that blooms over the ending allow this track to stand on its own instead of being defined by its clear influences. This song also introduces us to one of the album’s most important points: that Donald Glover is a monstrously talented vocalist.
“Have Some Love”
Weakest track on this whole shit. On my first straight-through listen, this song filled me with a looming sense of dread. In order to explain why, I have to clue you into a personal bias I’ve realized I have: When it comes to harmonies, I am a Beach Boys guy through and through. I like my harmonies clean and tight. (Just like this track-by-track review, amirite?) I am not so much a loosey goosey, crowd-shouted harmonies type of guy. That means that some of the undeniably classic funk and soul of the late ‘60s and ‘70s that Awaken, My Love! draws from has an extra hurdle to get over with me: I either have to dissociate myself from my personal taste in order to give it its due critical consideration, or the song has to be so good, or use that vocal element so effectively, that it transcends my usual reaction against it.
So the first strike against “Have Some Love,” right out the gate, is those massed vocals, like an extended family with varying degrees of individual vocal talent all singing together (ugh! so positive!). These vocals are especially disappointing, given that “Me and Your Mama” had already proven one of Gambino’s greatest assets (his singing) to a degree never before heard (by me) in his music.
But wait: I have an even bigger problem with this song: It’s mediocre. And not only is it mediocre, but it’s a mediocre song with a VERY SPECIFIC sonic reference point. “Have Some Love” is a mediocre and obvious ripoff of “Can You Get to That,” by Funkadelic.
The proof is in the funky pudding, my friends:
Not only is “Can You Get To That” an absolute, Stone Cold Steve Austin motherfucking funk classic, it’s a classic that features those aforementioned crowd-shouted vocals, the ones I don’t usually like that well. But it is, in fact, one of those also aforementioned, benighted few songs that transcend my bias against such vocals—I love it. It’s a great song. “Have Some Love” is not.
Why don’t we go a little deeper with that Funkadelic comparison? Not only is “Have Some Love” a clear poor man’s version of “Can You Get To That,” it also actually occupies THE SAME SPOT in the tracklisting as “Can You Get To That” does on Funkadelic’s 1971 album Maggot Brain. Both songs occupy the second slot on their albums.
And put on your tin foil hats, folks, because here’s the cover art of Funkadelic’s Maggot Brain:
“Boogieman” features more of those gospel-y group vocals, but they only really annoy me for the first verse. When I went from “Have Some Love” into that first verse on my first listen through the album, I was really feeling like this whole record had taken a complete nosedive. But “Boogieman” picks up after that verse for me, and the album pulls itself out of the breach. The pre-chorus (the part where the drums drop out for a little while before the chorus) is sublime. It makes up for everything. The group vocals return here and there, but they don’t bother me anymore. The sun rises, and the rest of the album is pretty solid.
This song, like “Boogieman,” is kind of goofy, but I think it works better than “Boogieman”. A big part of that for me is Donald Glover’s return to lead vocals. SIDENOTE: There’s also a thinkpiece to be written about this album’s zombie and boogieman lyrics and imagery (the cover’s like a deliberate, glam, Afrofuturist zombie version of the Maggot Brain cover above), and the Civil Rights allegory I know some people read into the movie Night of the Living Dead. But I’m going to listen to tracks six through eight again instead of writing that thinkpiece.
This song brings the album almost back to “Me and Your Mama” quality levels. It’s not quite as well put together a song, but it’s really short so it gets a pass. (SIDENOTE: the members of Funkadelic are actually credited as songwriters on this one, FYI, because they’re sampled in the groove.) What makes this track for me is the incredible, Prince-like scream Don G. deploys throughout.
The Prince comparisons for this one make sense, but to be honest I don’t really think they do justice to just what a good little song this is. Like just listen to the thing, we don’t need to play spot-the-influence. Just enjoy it, and if you ever run into Donald Glover, give him a hearty slap on the back and say, “Donny, man, that ‘Redbone’ song? That’s a keeper. Good song, Donny.” It also launches us into the album’s second half, which features much more falsetto, and is all the better for it, in this writer’s opinion. Also love the little melody played by the weird, bloopy synth alongside the glockenspiel. Really fortifies the groove on this thing.
A Story: I recently formed a band with an old friend, a new friend, and a couple of strangers who are now also friends. At our first exploratory jam session, we all took a break to sit on the porch and shoot the shit. The other fellows passed a joint around, and the conversation eventually turned to a debate of this song’s merits. This was before I’d heard the full album. “California” has been almost unanimously singled out by critics as the red-headed stepchild of this record. There are some goofy, “weird” songs on here, but this one is the one that doesn’t fit in with the prevailing ‘70s funk vibe, the one that doesn’t, at first listen, make any damn sense at all. During our porch discussion of this song, our vocalist, Chelanga, expressed enthusiasm for it: he liked its fun, lighthearted nature, and its unorthodox arrangement (with the pan flute, etc). For him it was a funky little feel good jam; I think he said he’d listened to it several times that day. Eric, one of our guitarists, was more skeptical: he thought it was too weird, and it stuck out too much from the rest of the album. The biggest sticking point was the vocal style. But then we listened to the song, to settle things, and the positives started to pile up. We all warmed to it a little, even as we criticized parts of it, marveled at the inscrutable decisions that had gone into it. It’s a weird one, but it’s catchy. It obviously doesn’t want to be taken seriously, so why take it seriously?
I had a hard time dealing with the incomprehensible accent on the vocals on this one, but with time, they’ve won me over. I now actually think this album could use one or two more random-ass songs that sound like a drunk Jamaican Steve Urkel doing karaoke over Jimmy Buffet outtakes.
The weird, slow-mo DJ Mustard-sounding beat with a half-hearted Curtis Mayfield impression on top that this song opens with really gets me, especially the little moments when the singing lapses into dazed speech for part of a line. And then the drums come in with the perfect fill, and we get a few minutes of a tasty groove with some sweet harmonies. I like the part where DG seductively says he wants to eat the listener alive, and then says “Please don’t find me rude, but I don’t eat fast food,” and totally sells it even though in anyone else’s hands that would be a really, really stupid line.
This thing has more incredible falsetto and really just serves to continue the absurdly deep bench of good songs tucked in the second half of the album’s run time. I also dig the echo-laden jellyfish documentary soundtrack-sounding synths that creep in here and there on this one during the chorus. Just kidding: those synths are actually guitars!!
“The Night Me and Your Mama Met”
This song is an instrumental tune in 6/8 time with some guitar shredding on it. Funkadelic also have an instrumental tune in 6/8 time with some guitar shredding on it, but the two do not need to be compared.
This song strikes me as a cross between two musicians: Shuggie Otis and Marvin Gaye. Shuggie Otis wrote one famous song called “Strawberry Letter 23,” which you all really should listen to because it’s wonderful and you will like it. Marvin Gaye is Marvin Gaye. Unlike “Have Some Love,” this song works really well with its influences, and it closes the album out on a high note. Glover’s vocals on this are great, and I like the little touch of Auto-Tune on that one random vocal phrase.
Verdict: “Have Some Love” is Wack, but almost everything else Wails.
Well this was a kick to the head. Childish Gambino, my own namesake, is nothing if not inventive. But Awaken, My Love!, his third album, takes those few Gambino signatures and tosses them in the trash. Normally boisterous and spitting lyrics he knows are clever, Awaken, My Love! can best be described with two words I’ve never used to describe Donald Glover: chill and funky. Chill and funky is also how I describe so much of my favorite music, which bodes well for this review. Yet I find myself asking a question we Childish Gambino fans are so used to asking: “Why don’t I like this more?”
I’ve always liked Childish, he’s smart, artistic, funny as hell and hecka good-looking. Regardless of the actual quality of his raps, they were distinct in a landscape full of same-sounding rappers. While those rappers were writing poetry to read aloud, Childish was writing in his diary: it was shitty, and embarrassing to share with others, but oh so cathartic.
I think that’s what isn’t clicking for me with Awaken, My Love!. It sounds great and there is seriously just so much funk to bop to, I love the outro to “Zombie” in particular, but its missing the angst and aggressive lyricism that made it feel like Gambino just… gets me. (Call it guilty pleasure, but one of the best things about Camp was that I refused to recommend it and only listen with other people to it if I already knew they liked it.) Awaken, My Love! lacks that same unabashed Childish personality, for the first half of the album you would be forgiven for missing that Childish is singing on it at all, especially if you are used to him yelling out puns about oreos. Instead he peeks out from behind the instrumentals to croon a line, then recedes.
There is little doubt that Awaken, My Love! is Gambino’s best album to date, it just sounds so groovy and mellow and has some of the best autotune use I’ve heard in years. It is also an experiment, a break from classic ‘bino as I’ve already talked about. And all experimental phases have missteps (I’m looking at you, “California” and “Terrified”- get outta here!). We can only pray that Glover learns the right lessons. Give us this quality sound with the old Childish Gambino soul.
Drink: Hacker-Pshorr Weisse – A really pleasant fragrant wheat from Munich
Disclaimer: Seeing pretty much all of this record performed live has had a serious impact on my interpretation of it.
Slow Jam of The Week:
The opening is one of my favorite uses of vocal layering in Hip Hop in recent memory. I really like the use of it throughout the track, its tasteful and always around without being obnoxious (just like Donnie Trumpet.) You could argue that the beat to this song is too fast for it to be a slow jam. That would be a good point. I believe the content and style makes it fit within my definition of slow jam. I feel Chance’s nostalgia and longing for a world I never experienced. I have no idea what growing up around S. 79th would be like, yet I find myself missing it. He is pretty good. It feels like backstory episode of a TV show I really like. (AT)
This sounds like the back beat to an early 2000’s country song about a sunny day. Seriously. I pretty much picked it for that reason alone. Like, how can you make something that sounds so generic and is totally Chance? I find this song to be sort of enigmatic. It has a complexion that doesn’t really fit with the rest of the album. I could see the exact same instrumentation being used for a Christian rock song or something. I guess this is the beat that I found most interesting.
I should note that this was a cop-out because all the beats on this track do something for me in one way or another.
They told me I wouldn’t go/
Cause in high school all I cared about was hoes/
Well, maybe that shit was my interest/
Now I spend more than they make at my dentist
Mixtape (Lil’ Yachty)
This bitch has been stuck in my head all week. The line itself is awesome. “We don’t do the same drugs no more” is such a simple line but there is so much that can be unpacked. It really seems like a shame that they don’t do the same drugs, like they used to really enjoy one another, now the other is gone. The ballad style piano line paired with the ever expanding layered female voice every time the hook comes around helps to create the sense of longing I need for this song to work emotionally.
Honorable Mention: Mixtape
I Don’t Get It:
Blame JB. His hook isn’t very good. It takes me out of the narrative of the song instead of enhancing it. That isn’t necessarily his fault but because it is the only hook I really don’t feel on the album I am blaming him. Who called the Canadian? I don’t get it.
Banger of the Week
The intro builds straight into the hook really well. I dig that. The beat has a great mix of deep pounding bass while the line is still fluid. As a former sub-woofer enthusiast I can say, that is really difficult to come by these days. This is a party jam, any party with Lil’ Wayne is probably pretty rad. The features are really good and the beat always brings me right where I want to go. This is a banger.
This is a good record. Chance is really showcasing his versatility and he does so without loosing any of the connection he has become famous for. Speaking of fame, this album feels like Chance staking out his place in the Hip Hop hierarchy. He made it baby.