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Review: Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

Donald Glover puts the Childish Gambino moniker to rest with his excellent final studio album…

Donald Glover has had an interesting career in music to say the very least. Starting off by releasing rap mixtapes online – under a persona created by a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, no less – his work was known for witty lyricism that weaved in his prowess as a comedian. These were followed by two studio albums, including the acclaimed Because The Internet, before Gambino veered away from rap with his R&B-infused EP Kauai and subsequent psychedelic masterpiece “Awaken, My Love!”. All eyes have been on Glover since he dropped his hit single This Is America in 2018, which saw another shift in style, and two years later we’ve finally got our hands on his swan song under the Childish Gambino name.

The new album, 3.15.20, first appeared online via the website donaldgloverpresents.com, where it streamed for twelve hours before going silent ahead of the official release on Spotify a week later. It collects a dozen new songs adding up to nearly an hour of new content that builds off the sound of “Awaken, My Love!” while injecting the tropical flavours present in 2018’s Summer Pack EP to make for some truly astounding listening.

All but two of the songs on 3.15.20 are unnamed, instead referred to by their timestamp. The opening track, 0.00, doesn’t really work as a standalone song, as all it really has is some ambient vocals echoing the words “We are”, but it makes for a good tone-setter that eases listeners into the album and tunes their ears to the sounds that follow it.

Once the initiation is complete, we’re thrown into Algorythm, which Gambino previously performed live as part of his This Is America tour. The song already sounded great as a muffled concert recording, so hearing Glover and DJ Dahi’s production in all its clean, studio glory at long last is a blessing. The pounding drums and distorted vocals – both of which are perennial throughout the album – transport listeners to somewhere bizarre and unique. This is also one of the only tracks since Glover’s Because The Internet days to feature him rapping, and overall makes for an excellent combination of his many strengths.

Algorhythm ends with a dissonance of various noises that gradually come together to lead into Time, featuring uncredited but instantly recognisable vocals from Ariana Grande. The two complement each other extremely well, with Gambino channelling MJ’s Man In The Mirror in a more melancholy fashion while Grande provides some uplifting hooks. The backing vocals are amazing too as we’re treated to some rich, gospel-esque harmonies against composer Ludwig Goransson’s instrumentals.

The next major features on 3.15.20 are 21 Savage and Kadhja Bonet on 12.38. Initially, this track feels like it could’ve been ripped straight from Because The Internet, before showcasing elements of “Awaken, My Love!”. Glover’s marriage of his two past styles, along with his coordination of two other contrasting artists makes for a beautifully diverse collection of sounds and themes.

And it only gets better. The beat on the next track, 19.10, is ridiculously good and makes it near impossible to sit still while listening. There’s again a hint of sadness to the melody here, but no other track sums up the emotions this project carries as well as this one. This is the coda – or at least a turning point – in Glover’s career as a musician, taking place in the midst of a global crisis. It’s more the vibe of the song as a whole that captures this rather than its lyrics, but the hook “To be beautiful is to be hunted” is still super catchy, and Glover’s vocals are on top form.

24.19 continues the quality with a song that sounds a lot like it could fit as the final track, but is really only the halfway point. The vocals, against some wonderfully-placed strings, are reminiscent of Frank Ocean’s on Nikes, and are just as soothing as nearly anything you’d find on Blonde. This proves that while Glover is a bit of a magpie, he’s more than capable of adopting an established style and making it his own.

Glover draws from the best of the 2010s again with 32.22, in which he goes full Yeezus for an abrasive album highlight that sounds like his own take on Kanye West’s Black Skinhead. While the mixing isn’t quite up to the transcendent standard of the album that inspired it, the assortment of drums, chants and distorted vocals make this a deeply immersive track that gets better with each listen.

Then we finally hit the least impressive song with 35.31. It’s a fun, summery cut that you could easily dance to, but just doesn’t innovate anywhere near as much as the rest of the album, much like California on “Awaken, My Love!”. Still, it adds some range to the album off the back of something as relatively heavy as the previous track.

After a brief, stripped-back track with a little bit of Queen influence in 39.28, we get the familiar sounds of 42.26, which was previously released as Feels Like Summer, complete with its own animated music video. This song still hits as hard as it did two years ago. At face value, it’s a catchy summer radio hit, with a straight-forward melody and lyrics, but pay attention and you’ll find an underlying sadness with passages like “I really thought this world could change”. It’s one you can listen to on repeat and find new merit in every time.

Gambino maintains this vibe with the next song, 47.48, which has another by-the-beach feel to it, almost distracting the listener from the lyrics of “The violence” unfolding around us. Like many of the other lyrics present across the album, it never digs too deeply into this concept – for all we know, the violence could be gangs, police brutality or hate crime – but the idea of all this occurring before innocent eyes leaves an emotional impact all the same, driven home at the end by a segment featuring Glover’s son Legend.

Glover ends this album the only way he can: flamboyantly, by splicing together several different approaches in one song, including super punchy rap and soothing soul vocals. 53.49 is yet another example of experimentation paying off on this album; and throwing in a big, echoey “Yeeeeaaaahhhhhhh!” is always a good shout, because nobody does it like Gambino. This consistently brilliant album ends on a high, and warrants an instant replay.

There are few better things you could be listening to whilst in self-isolation than Childish Gambino’s discography, and this album is close to being the pinnacle of it, right behind “Awaken, My Love!”. Endlessly innovative and pure joy for the ears, 3.15.20 is an incredible album; so when we’re all allowed to throw parties again, this is what’s getting played first.

Score: 8.5/10

By Jamie Morris

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