Awaken, My Love!: Groovy, but Where’s the Soul?

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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?”

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Does this picture add anything to the article? – Yes

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.

Final verdict: needs more of this^

7/10 peanut butter chocolate cakes with Kool-aid

Easy J’s HOT Album Takes: Coloring Book

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:

Summer Friends

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)

 

Beat:

Finish Line/Drown

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.

 

Rhyme:

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)

Hook:

Same Drugs

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:

Juke Jam

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

No Problem

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.

 

The Brief:

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.

19/20

 

 

 

 

Why I Chose Awaken My Love

I know each of us has followed Childish with different levels of fandom. I really wanted to see how that changed the way each of you heard the record. At first I didn’t really get it, but this record came on hard for me particularly after I heard a review on ATC about how it was made. ( http://www.npr.org/2016/12/09/504969213/childish-gambinos-new-album-is-a-funky-left-turn )

Now get something done ya filthy dogs. Happy 2017 kids.

Otis: More than just Maybach Music

I apologize for my tardiness with this review, but here goes.

Otis Redding is someone I am familiar with, but on a very shallow level. Everyone knows “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, through years of radio play on Oldies music stations. Kanye West and Jay-Z paid tribute to Otis Redding in their 2011 hit “Otis”, featuring samples from the song “Try a Little Tenderness”.

When this song came out, I gave Otis Redding a try and listened to this album and thought it was good, left it at that, and moved on.

But going back several years later and trying to get my untrained ears to dissect this album has been fun. Every time I attempt one of these album reviews, I find myself trying to approach it from an objective point of view, but honestly, that’s just not me. Music to me falls somewhere between a disaster and a banger, between terrible and a complete jam, or even in the realm of bad or a wailer. I am not an objective critic and I think I should stop trying to be one.

As discussed previously on other blogs, the title track is the best. I feel that there is not much more I can add. Song is legendary.

With that out of the way, Dock of the Bay is a banging, slapping, pocket a.f. work of art. Otis has so much power and soul in his voice, giving us the chance to feel the emotion he is conveying in his songs. “I’m Coming Home” is a fantastic example of this. Otis has been left by his woman, leaving him a “lonely little boy, nowhere to go”. Otis is pleading to his woman, wanting to come back to her, with the chorus a powerful cry to get his woman back, to return home. The raw emotion in this song makes it one of my favorites.

Then there is a song like “Don’t Mess with Cupid”. Otis has been scorned by a woman, her throwing his love away like it was a piece of trash. This song starts with a guitar lick that is very similar to “Party in the USA” by Miley Cyrus. I love the instrumentals behind Otis on this song, with the banging on the cymbal and the horns fitting the cutting edge of Otis’ voice perfectly. I think this song is an absolute jam, and wish it was sampled more in modern music.

The final song that stuck out to me was “Tramp”. The female voice on this song is Carla Thomas and she is a perfect 10/10 on this song. When she says “You know what Otis… you’re country…”, I can literally feel the sass and hate this woman has for this man. Otis is trying to prove his love and monetary worth to this woman, but all she still thinks he is a tramp. And she says it in such a way that I actually believe it. This is my favorite song from this album because it seems the realest. 10/10.

Overall, I enjoyed coming back to this album and thought it was a nice choice by Connor. It is cool how we are venturing out of the Hip Hop genre we typically live in and are venturing into newer (older) territory. This album is an album of love, losing it, hating it, accepting it, craving it. This album fits the general mood of life, and was a thoroughly enjoyable listen!

Rating: 8/10

Favorite Song: Tramp

Favorite Lyric: “You know what Otis… you’re country…straight from the Georgia woods…” – “Tramp”

Why I chose The Dock of the Bay

I didn’t settle on The Dock of the Bay until the moment before I posted my choice on the Facebook thread, though I think it was inevitable. The first album that any of us pick  is special, we could approach it as a joke if we wanted, but we all care deeply about sharing music we love and think is noteworthy. The three albums shared so far demonstrate this: Austin chose a beloved album that he wasn’t even sure any of us would enjoy, while Alex wanted to introduce us to one of the greatest rap albums ever recorded.These choices end up being more personal, more revealing, perhaps even more vulnerable than we intend.

This is why The Dock of the Bay was my pick this week. Most simply, I’ve been listening to it non-stop for months, especially the title-track. Otis has a voice that is intoxicating. So many singers lilt or glide through a song, but Redding digs into it. He doesn’t savor or relish, there is an honesty and desperation to his voice that separates him from countless others who enjoy their own vulnerability too much. If you let yourself relax and focus, you might believe he was singing directly to you, or from you. This is where I’ve found myself so many times this year, whether weeding the garden, or watching from the roof of the barn the wind roll across the brome grass hills. Dock of the Bay is hopeful and melancholy,  as if there is as much to be found in the negative space of the album; a few months ago I was listening through and I thought of a painting by Monet which has much the same effect on me (not to mention the same theme).

Impression, Sunrise by Claude Monet. Try listening to “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” again while looking at it.

As of the time of writing this, only Austin and Jason have published responses to tDotB, and both of them mentioned how the first track steals and completely overshadows the rest of the album. This is surprisingly fitting for my first album pick. Both Alex and Austin can confirm that I used to never listen to entire albums; I didn’t believe in their value as a cohesive work of art, instead opting to pick and choose the songs I loved, the mixtape philosophy, if you will. It was only with their help that I admitted that yes musicians probably have some purpose in their compilations and that an album in its entirety might be more useful for exploring a theme or time period than one song. So here is an album that is both: a mind-numbingly good single with some chasers and a cohesive exploration of one man’s experience of love and loneliness all wrapped up inside his own head (by the way, “Tramp” the apparent emotional-misfit, is much more interesting if you consider that it is the only duet, the only time Otis actually tries to speak with a lover. Regardless of the depth of his soul, he utterly fails at communication).

I don’t know if my enjoying tDotB so much says anything about me, but I think the fact that I chose it as my first album does say something important. I believe that whether we intend it or not, the first album we each pick will play out as a thesis for our musical taste. For however long this blog lasts and however many albums we each pick, they will always be in relation to these first ones, and each new album will add to the narrative. With his first choice, Alex gave us something spectacular. Austin gave us something sublime. I tried to give you all something earnest. I cannot wait for the rest of you to share your first albums and to share that part of yourselves.

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I love you guys

Otis

I: The Title Track

Living in a houseboat is just one of those goals of mine that I probably won’t ever get to accomplish. Listening to “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” is probably the closest I’ll ever come.

It’s one of the greatest songs of all time, right? Like if you don’t like it, you’re probably a pretty uptight and non-joyful person. What would be the point of disliking such a simple, joyful song? Nobody’s going to think you’re cool for not liking “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”. They’re just going to think there’s something sort of broken inside you, and they’ll feel pity that you are unable to appreciate such a simple pleasure. It’s for everybody, from fans of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” to fans of Emperor’s “I Am the Black Wizards”. (I’m a fan of both, so maybe they’re bad examples.)

It reminds me a little bit of one of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s top shelf tracks, and I don’t just mean sonically, although there is a slight resemblance. What I really mean is, doesn’t it kind of feel like John Fogerty didn’t write “Proud Mary”? It feels more like “Proud Mary” always existed, and Fogerty tapped into the geist and discovered it, or it was born with the United States, and dictated to him in a dream by the ghost of Mark Twain, or something. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” is just about on that level.

It’s also just one of the towering achievements of ’60s music, one of the (legitimate) reasons the decade still looms so large in music history. It sits up there with Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and “Okee from Muskogee” in terms of its significance as a cultural shorthand for its time period. And it’s innovative too: by merging folk-rock and soul, “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” basically invents Bill Withers’ whole career.

Any time someone writes about The Dock of the Bay (the album), they tend to focus on the context of the its release, how “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” was supposed to be the starting point for a new phase of Otis Redding’s career. It was a great, forward-thinking song, but its merger of hippie-friendly folk and soul was also potentially a very fertile marketing strategy to expand Redding’s audience; following his famous 1967 performance at the Monterey Pop Festival, dude was making serious inroads with the acid rock crowd. And although “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” might not seem super psychedelic on the surface, a lot of the psychedelic rock of the time had roots in the folk-rock boom of 1965-66. (For example, see how quickly The Byrds went from Bob Dylan covers to the drug references and John Coltrane-aping guitar solo of “Eight Miles High,” or the fact that members of The Grateful Dead had roots in jug bands and bluegrass.) And even as Redding looks back to the sounds of a couple years before, the laid back vibes and acoustic rhythm guitar on “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” also anticipate the pastoral shift in countercultural tastes that would occur around 1970 when Crosby, Stills and Nash blew up and brought the singer-songwriters of the ’70s with them. It also helps that “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” is set in San Fransisco, which was hippie (and houseboat) central.

The coup-de-grace for Redding should have been The Dock of the Bay (the album), which, had he not died, likely would have traveled further down the chill folk-soul road its title track paved, and turned Redding into a pan-demographic star.

II: The Rest of the Stuff

Shit.

I didn’t want to waste that many words on context, but I think it’s important to note that The Dock of the Bay (the album), as it was released, isn’t the tonally unified thing it could have been; instead, it’s a collection of odds-and-ends compiled by Steve Cropper, Redding’s guitarist and often songwriting partner. The songs date back as far as 1965, I think. So it opens with the absolute cutting edge and then goes backward. In a fashion that’s more early ’60s than late ’60s, The Dock of the Bay is an album that anchors one dynamite single with some other material that was lying around from other sessions; everything after “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” is just extra. But the album is still regarded as a classic because Cropper was pretty discerning in the stuff he added to the tracklist. It was stuff that deserved release on a full-length, and stuff that showed different sides of Otis Redding well.

So how do I feel the rest of the tracklist? For me, the main draw here is the drums. I can’t confirm because Wikipedia doesn’t offer detailed personnel information on the album, but I’m fairly certain most of the drums on the album are played by Al Jackson, Jr., who was the drummer for Stax Records’ house band Booker T. and the MGs, and who is also, it should be noted, a fucking gem in the recorded history of the drum set. (Aside: Jackson also supplied the deeeeeep backbeats on most of the songs on Al Green’s 1972 album I’m Still In Love With You, which is possibly my favorite album to practice along to.)

My favorite drum moment on the album is the groove on “Let Me Come On Home,” where you’ve got this snare pounding on all four beats that sort of serves as an anchor for the band. It’s the kind of beat that got used on a lot of Motown songs too, but the Stax band (aka the MG’s) play with more grit. What I especially like about it is the way the drummer still wallops the two and the four way more than one and three (even though he’s hitting on all four), creating kind of an ambiguous feel to the beat.

The snap of the drum groove on “Tramp”is probably the only thing I really like about the song, which is otherwise a clear throwaway. “Tramp” and “The Huckle Buck” are both weird nonsense songs, but I have a lot more appreciation for “The Huckle Buck,” the way it degenerates into almost sub-verbal grunting.

“The Glory of Love” should be the weakest thing here: for the first minute and half of its brief runtime, it’s a bald-faced retread of “Try a Little Tenderness”. The drummer even mimics the two-bars early-entrance of the drums on “…Tenderness”. But then the song lurches into a weird, polyrhythmic groove and redeems itself completely, feeling more like a true sequel than a mere retread.

The only song I think comes close to the title track in quality of composition is “Don’t Mess With Cupid”; on the album’s other standouts it’s often Redding’s monster voice and personality, and the tight band, which elevate the material. “Don’t Mess With Cupid,” on the other hand, has a great hook and a nice little guitar intro. It’s a pop song.

To the credit of its compiler Cropper, I think the albums a whole plays better than the sum of its parts. It showcases and celebrates the facets Redding’s talent, and in that way even its flaws become endearing for the complete portrait of the man they help paint.

Verdict: Redding absolutely wails, and Jackson Jr. (I think) keeps the band in the pocket. Steve Cropper doesn’t really shred, but he is a great guitarist, and he supplies some tasty licks.

Easy J’s HOT Album Takes: Dock Of The Bay

This Week’s drink of choice: Rebel Yell Straight Bourbon Whisky. 7/10 Want to pay 4 extra dollars for a fancy bottle? This is your Bourbon!

 

Banger:

(Sittin’ On) The Dock of The Bay

This is one of those songs. It’s so great its greatness is undeniable. Instead of explaining why I chose it, I want to try to figure out why it is just soooo good. Instrumentally, no part is out of its mind, this is good. The rhythm section is just a simple rock-ish beat and a classic doom… doom doom dum dum dum (deal whit it) melody. A piano leads through the chords to paint the mood and the electric guitar is just some fantastic decoration, present but never in front the vocals. The same can be said for the horn section. The vocal performance blows my mind. I like it so much. The timbre of his voice is so unique so much emotion is conveyed through just an oooo or a little flair at the end of word. The timing of the lyrics in this song fall right behind the beat like early Snoop. It is so pleasing to my ear, like Otis and I have this inside joke about the timing of the song and he never lets me down. I think that means this song is… pocket.

 

Beat:

I’m Coming Home To See About You

The song opens with a clank-y old time-y piano. Why? I don’t know but I am interested. I think the reason I like the instrumental parts of this song so much is the contrast between the verses and the chorus. The verses are subdued with a lot of space for emotion and lyrics. Then that dope as snare fill leads into the double time chorus which is bursting with emotion and upfront. The beat paints a perfect picture of a desperate lover. The song writes itself after that.

 

Feels:

The Glory Of Love

I just want to say here that most of the tracks on this record could go here. I just liked this one best. Otis Redding is a fucking legend for a reason. He makes me feel things with that god damned smokey voice UH. Anyway, this is a love song, I don’t really know what is going on but it makes me feel complex emotions. I am happy, sad, scorned but most of all nostalgic for nothing in particular. What a strange thing to feel. A familiar longing for an idea I can’t comprehend. This track and “Tuesday’s Gone”  by Lynyrd Skynyrd make me feel this specific feeling. This attacks my personal feels. Also it isn’t over the first time and who would want it to end that early?

 

I Don’t Get It:

Tramp

This song makes me feel nothing. To be fair we are getting into b-side filler territory on the record, so for what it is it’s not bad. I just wish there was more singing. It’s Otis man. I came here to hear him sing. Also that lady sounds like a total bitch. Just Sayin. Cut him some slack. He is Otis Funcking Redding, damn woman.

 

Hook:

Don’t Mess With Cupid

The opening of this track sounds kind of like “Party in the USA.”

OK, I love the stomp clap “Cecelia” style drum part throughout. The chorus itself is simple with the same four word phrases repeating more or less. The horns make it for me. I dig the constant swelling lines putting us afloat in an electrified sea. It really compliments the high energy singing of Otis’s upper register.

 

Rhyme:

Cause I’ve had nothing to live for/
And look like nothin’s gonna come my way

-(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay

 

The Brief:

This is a delightful way to spend forty minutes. Its a good record. The b-side might be a little soft, but that has as much to do with when it was made as what it  is. The biggest flaw might be that title track. It is just too good. “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay” overshadows the rest of the album. It became difficult to enjoy the rest because I couldn’t stop singing the chorus to the opening track. I’m still singing it now.

17/20