Reminiscing Past Projects
I sit here writing this review as the lush sounds of Redbone play through my MacBook’s speakers. Made back in 2016, during a period of hi-hat littered, auto-tune trap music. This hit single showcased a contemporary reanimation of ‘70s funk, an interesting artistic direction that surprised many of his fans, myself included. The ominous intro with a few 808’s lay the mood for the song. Even as the sudden somewhat up-beat melody cuts in, the listener is left feeling a bit of melancholy. Childish Gambino’s thin high pitched vocal registry, “Daylight / I wake up feeling like you won’t play right” comes in all too perfectly. The song is interlaced with so many different instruments, so many different sounds all beautifully intermingling with one another. Each sound contributes to the fullness of this track, each instrument playing an integral part, all very meticulously assembled by genius producer and long-time collaborator, Ludwig.
I remember back when this song was originally released as a single in anticipation for his last latest album, Awaken My Love. Back then and even now I thought of Redbone as one of my favorites songs of the past 10 years, and that’s not an exaggeration. Now imagine the disappointment on my face when the album, Awaken My Love officially releases and turns out to be utter garbage. Weird accented singing throughout most of the album, songs about zombies, and the rest I had to erase from my memory due to how shit and disappointing it was. I couldn’t believe the man who released Redbone and so many other great tracks from previous projects such as Kauai and Because the Internet, could be the mastermind behind this unenjoyable album. I had no choice but to chalk it up as a fluke, an attempt at going out of his comfort zone and experimenting. I can always respect an artist’s attempt at being creative and unique – even if I don’t personally enjoy the work.
I figured I would have to sit around for another few years to get his next attempt at an album that hopefully features cuts from his incredible singing and rapping that I loved so much. “There’s no way…” I thought to myself, “that this man can fuck up AGAIN on his next album”. That would be like lightning striking the same spot twice, statistically speaking an anomaly.
I was confident in my mindset, because at the end of the day I’m a huge fan of Donald Glover. I knew this man was talented as hell. A multifaceted artist who’s found success not only in the rap and R&B music, but also broken through on both Television and major motion pictures in Hollywood (most recently voicing main character Simba in Disney’s The Lion King remake). This guy has the talent, there’s absolutely no denying that.
3.15.20, Glover’s Latest Attempt
The new album starts off with a faint buzz. A distorted Gambino cuts in “We are…” randomly every few seconds. This track lays a great foundation for what the listener can expect for the rest of the album – lots of empty space, ambiguous lyrics and dragged out production. This introduction reminded me of the sound of an old Sony Playstation starting up. An interesting start to an album, indeed.
Following up to this track is, Algorhythm. It comes off like a Yeezus remix. A bit more complete than a lot of the other songs on this album. I enjoy the production but was disappointed with Gambino’s vocals on here. They just leave something to be desired, something I felt when listening to most of this album. The following track Time is even more disappointing, the instrumental is alright, nothing special. The vocals on this track are even more boring than the previous song. I find it bizarre that Donald Glover chooses to provide names to these tracks but omitted the track titles to the rest of the songs. Makes no real sense and artistically adds nothing in my opinion.
Luckily the following track 12.38 saves me with 21 Savage’s incredible feature. Gambino does nothing for me on this track, and the beat itself is fairly simple which isn’t an issue if the vocal performance is strong enough to carry the beat – but Gambino fails to do that in my opinion. Towards the last two minutes of the track 21 Savage comes in and saves the song from becoming a lullaby. He spits a clean, simple effortless set of bars before the track eventually goes into a bridge and slowly fades.
“Favorite Original Track off the Album”
The next song, 19.10 is awesome, probably one of my favorite original tracks off this album that hasn’t been heard before. No features, just Childish Gambino. His vocals are still a bit bland, but the beat has a great bop to it. The vibe of this track reminds me of something that could have been on his previous work, Kauai which is a welcome change of pace. I’m also biased, because Kauai was one of his best pieces of work in my opinion and I’m a sucker for Gambino’s smooth singing. I’m not a fan of the vocal mixing found all over this project but I’ll take this song as a win.
Just as soon as the album begins to pick up pace, Gambino manages to obliterate that entirely with the following track, 24.19. An almost 8-minute track that slows down the tempo. Though it’s not as upbeat, the simplistic beat and vocals work really well here. I still consider the runtime of this song to be far longer and dragged out than necessary. A common pattern I notice throughout this album. The last few minutes’ result in ambient sounds and Gambino panting for breath.
The Biggest Disappointment…
The biggest disappointment of this album might be 32.22, which barely qualifies as music. All you’ll hear on this ‘song’ is Gambino whispering and shouting random nonsense for three whole minutes. This track ends with the sounds of farm animals such as cows mooing. Art.
35.31 sounds like something you’d hear off a Nick Jr. show. Not sure how this song made it onto this album’s track list, but then again the bar for this album has been set pretty low. “Left foot big foot, get out the way”. I’ve listened to this song at least four times now and the concept becomes less clear with each listen, and my hatred for it grows further. Why Gambino, what the hell compels you to produce such a song. Or 39.28? Or a lot of these songs for that matter.
Feels Like Summer, a single that was released a year or two ago makes it onto this album. For some reason, This Is America doesn’t. I don’t know the reasoning behind this, or the artistic reasoning behind a lot of this album. From the plain white cover, to the weird album name “3.15.20” to the painful track titles. Honestly this a really great song even if it’s an old one. It was direly needed to lift the boring atmosphere of this album.
The last song on the album, 53.49 finally sounds like something of quality. The energy of Gambino’s vocals on this cut is awesome. He hits such a wide range of notes especially towards the end as the entirety of the song crescendos to a climax. It’s incredibly disheartening that we didn’t get more of this kind of content and performance throughout the album. Not even necessarily the same sounding, but displaying a fullness and completeness that just seems to be lacking on 70% of this album.
It’s a bad day to be a Childish Gambino fan. After the long 4 year wait and all the hype, he managed to build up with This Is America and Summer Pack, it’s truly impressive that he was capable of dropping the ball so hard. It’s seems like Donald Glover is full of bright ideas but when it comes time to execute, he tends to miss the mark. It’s a shame.
At the end of the day I rank this project a 3/10.