Stay Woke

This review is long past due, but here she goes.

The newest album from Childish Gambino is a risky, blast to the past, fun album. Donald Glover takes a step in a completely different direction from any of his previous, releasing a funky, groove-tastic project. I didn’t know that I wanted a Childish Gambino funk album until I heard Awaken, My Love! I will be the first to admit this album isn’t perfect (lookin’ at you “California”…), but there are some absolute bangers on here that deserve recognition.

“Me and Your Mama” and “Redbone” are the crown jewels of this album, with Gambino at his rawest and most powerful. I love the feeling he puts into these songs and Falsetto singing on “Redbone” is next level.

“Zombies” is also a good song, if you are looking for highlights.

“California” is a shit show. Not even worth listening too.

Rating: 7.5/10

Favorite Song: Redbone

Favorite Lyric: “Stay woke.”

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‘Awaken, My Love!’: Track-by-Track

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:

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Why?

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:

funkadelicmaggotbrain

Look familiar?

“Boogieman”

“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.

“Zombies”

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.

“Riot”

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.

“Redbone”

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.

“California”

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.

“Terrified”

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.

“Baby Boy”

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.

“Stand Tall”

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.

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

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You ready for some reading, motherfucker?

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

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.

Top 10 Favorite Songs from 2016!

I was so excited to write this blog that I started on it as soon as I got home from work. I was trying to brainstorm and remember my favorite jams from this 2016 year, which is harder than I thought it would be. We’ve had some great albums this year, including Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book, Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo, Beyonce’s Lemonade, etc. I found this list to be a good way for me to reflect on why I love each one of these songs, whether it be the beats, lyrics, or just the fun the song brings. These are not the “best” songs of the year, but they have definitely been some of my favorites. I also tried to stick to one song per album, in order to give a little diversity to this list.

Feel free to disagree with me! This is music, the most subjective art there is. Everyone gets an opinion.

One last thing, as you read this, you may be thinking: Where’s Views? Why didn’t he include any Drake?

Because Fuck Drake.
Views sucked. Call me when Take Care gets re-released.

Enjoy!

10. That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars – 24K Magic

Date: November 18, 2016

Since this song was released with the 24K Magic album, it has been vibing with me on all the fun levels. This is a catchy song, with a fat beat behind it, as Austin would call a “slapper”. I love the sexually-charged lyrics Bruno is laying down and the mix between funk & pop this song has. Bruno has that silky smooth voice, and trust me, it’s what I like.

Favorite Lyric: “I’ll rent a beach house in Miami, Wake up with no jammies.”

9. Caroline – Aminé single

Date: March 9, 2016

I loved this song from the first listen. It’s funky and original, with Aminé dropping Gambino-esque references and flow switches that keep the listener on their toes. This is the first single from this Portland rapper and if it is any sign of the future, we are all in for a real treat. I love dual threat rappers, those that can spit bars and sing, something we see less and less of these days. Aminé doesn’t have the strongest voice, but it works perfectly in this song. All in all, this track is dope.

Favorite Lyric: “If ya want safe-sex, baby use the knee pads, Freaky with the sticky icky, Baby give me kitty kitty.”

8. Whisky to Wine – Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood – Gunslinger

Date: September 8, 2016

The first time I heard this song, I was listening to Garth perform at the Ryman Auditorium and he was doing a bit about the greatest duets in country music history. After singing some old classics, he brought out his wife, Trisha Yearwood, and they cut loose on this song from his new album. Loving classic Garth, I was unsure of what to think of the new stuff, but this song blew me away. So simple and delicate, yet powerful and moving. The chorus is the powerhouse of this song, with Garth and Trisha meshing as perfectly as chips n’ queso. Garth proved he still had it and Trisha proved she never lost it, making this song one of the easiest choices to make the top 10.

Favorite Lyric: “Whiskey to wine, It’s just not the same high, I miss the fire, The burning desire.”

7. Solo – Frank Ocean – Blonde

Date: August 20, 2016

I may get some flack for this, but I did not like Blonde that much. I felt it was too boring and for how long we waited for some new Ocean, I guess I expected more. Except for “Solo”. This track feels like Channel Orange Frank Ocean, with the same emotion and pure vocals that I came to love on his previous work. This song stood out, for me, among all the other songs on this album and it clearly deserved a spot on my list.

Favorite Lyric: “It’s hell on Earth and the city’s on fire, Inhale, inhale there’s heaven, There’s a bull and a matador dueling in the sky, Inhale, in hell there’s heaven.”

6. Redbone – Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love!

Date: November 17, 2016

Gambino’s departure from corny rap into funk may have disappointed some fans, but I welcome it. I love the cleverness of Gambino’s raps and how he seems to not give a fuck about what people think. I loved the adventurous nature of Awaken, My Love! and look to see how far he will go on his next album. I was instantly drawn to “Redbone”, what I consider the mantel piece of this album, due to its filthy base line and chilling vocals. Childish creeps up into that head voice and spits some raw, emotional lines that keep me coming back for more. I may have only been listening to this track for a few weeks, but it is already one of my favorite songs, not just in 2016 either. Stay woke!

Favorite Lyric: “But stay woke, Niggas creepin’, They gon’ find you, Gon’ catch you sleepin’ (Oooh).”

5. Good as Hell – Lizzo –  Coconut Oil

Date: May 11, 2016

The former GRRRL PRTY standout drops her follow up EP to her fantastic album,  Big Grrrl Small World, with “Good as Hell” being the lead single. This song has everything I have come to appreciate about Lizzo: Sass, Soul, & Realness. Lizzo never fails to keep her feet firmly planted on the ground, allowing her music to connect with people like me. I appreciate an artist who can keep it real (RIP Kanye). While she sounds like she could use a few more GRRRL’s behind her, Lizzo still brings the fire with this one.

Favorite Lyric: “Come now, come dry your eyes, You know you a star, you can touch the sky, I know that it’s hard but you have to try, If you need advice, let me simplify.”

4. Ultralight Beam (feat. Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, & Kirk Franklin) – Kanye West – The Life of Pablo

Date: February 14, 2016

Kanye has had an interesting year, even for him. I was one of the fortunate ones who saw him before he cancelled the remainder of his Saint Pablo tour, and boy was it worth every penny. The Life of Pablo may not be Kanye’s greatest work, but it still was one of the best albums of the year. It had everything: gospel vibes, Chance, bleached assholes, controversy, etc. And “Ultralight Beam” was the crowning jewel of this album. “Real Friends” was probably a better song, but Ultralight Beam found a way to connect with people on a level that is lacking in hip-hop, spiritually. Kelly Price slays with the vocals, and Chance proved he was ready for the national spotlight with the best verse on the whole album. Kanye stepped aside, showed some humility, and gave the “chance” to the future of hip-hop. And it worked out better than we could have ever imagined.
The message is clear.
We on an Ultralight Beam. This IS a God dream.

Favorite Lyric: “I made Sunday Candy, I’m never going to hell, I met Kanye West, I’m never going to fail.”

3. Work (feat. Drake) – Rihanna – ANTI

Date: January 27, 2016

“Work” is not a groundbreaking song. It is not deep. It is not powerful. But what it is is pure fun. Not every song needs to be a game changer. Not every song needs to rival Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright”. I love this song because it is so simple and catchy. Though being ridiculously overplayed, I have never felt like I could be sick of this song. Even Drake is good on this song; it’s probably the only good thing he’s done since Take Care. Every year I hope to find a song like this; one that is just fun and catchy. This year was Work. Work. Work. Work. Work. Work.

Favorite Lyric: “Work, work, work, work, work, work.”

2. Friends (feat. Bon Iver and Kanye West) – Francis and the Lights – Farewell, Starlite!

Date: July 17, 2016

I happened to stumble across this song on Pitchfork the day it came out and thought I would give it a listen because Kanye was in it. My initial impressions were that this song seemed eerily familiar and that I really liked it. Turns out Chance sampled this song for his “Summer Friends” track on Coloring Book. I delved more and more into the catalog of Francis and the Lights and found myself loving the style of music he was making. I have never been huge on electronic music, but his music really vibed well with me and the Farewell, Starlite! album has become one of my 2016 favorites. But it all started with this song. Bon Iver shreds, as always, and the combination of Francis Starlite and Justin Vernon makes for a killer pair, something I hope to see again in the future.

Favorite Lyric: “There’s a station playin’ rock and roll, So stay tuned in mi amor, Stay tuned in.”

1. No Problem (feat. Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz) – Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book

Date: May 13, 2016

This is my pick for album of the year, hands down. I went from being lukewarm on Chance after Acid Rap to a total Chance the Rapper stan. I had the great pleasure of seeing him at Magnificent Coloring Day with Jason, and the show was pure magic. If I was to do an unstructured list of songs that were my favorites in 2016, including ones from the same album, Coloring Book would have six of the top ten (Tracks 1, 2, 5, 6, 8, 12 on the album if you are curious). This mixtape connected with me on a level very few pieces of music ever have before. Spiritually, I feel enlightened by the words Chance lays down, finding some inner peace in how much faith plays a roll in his music (“with the faith of a pumpkin seed-sized mustard seed”). I can look at this track list and point out my favorite parts on every song. Chance makes this album so much fun, and I have fun every time I make my way through it.
I am not saying this should be everyone’s favorite album or everyone will even like it. But this album means a lot to me and I felt like sharing that.

So why “No Problem”? Honestly, the video was dope. #FreeWeezy. And it is the most fun song on the album. And “Angels” was released in 2015.

Favorite Lyric: “And if that label try to stop me, There gon’ be some crazy Weezy fans waitin’ in the lobby, Mula, baby.”

 

Thank you for checking out my Top 10 Favorite Songs of 2016! Feel free to comment with any thoughts you have!