Childish Gambino albums seem like a rarity these days. He released his third studio album “Awaken, My Love!” just over 4 years ago to critical acclaim, and the world hasn’t stopped talking about his music since. In 2018 he released what I consider one of the best singles and music videos of the decade in “This Is America” and a short film titled Guava Island featuring Rihanna. Together with long-time collaborator Ludwig Göransson, he has been able to craft a sound that is rich in texture and melody while showcasing his vocal range and occasional rapping ability. Glover always has a grand vision, no matter what he’s working on. With the release of his surprise new album 3.15.20, I can’t help but feel like Gambino played it safe, musically. On albums such as 2013’s Because the Internet, he brought his concept to life with bold, experimental instrumentals that ranged from beautiful and melodic to psychotic. On 2016’s “Awaken, My Love!” Gambino was able to bring a whole new sound, taking inspiration from 70s funk and soul music while keeping the sound modern and futuristic. 3.15.20 represents a new chapter in his musical story – a subdued neo-soul/R&B album that focuses more on sweet, catchy melodies than providing the raw, experimental energy I’ve come to love about the talented creative polymath.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing however. The more and more I listen to this album the more enamoured I am with gentleness and catchy tone of the project. The majority of the album’s tracks are named after their timestamps throughout, with the exception of “Algorhythm” and “Time,” the second and third tracks respectively. After the bland intro of “0.00,” the album kicks into second gear with tracks that have a heartbeat to them. “Algorhythm” sounds like it was inspired by 808s & Heartbreak-era Kanye, while the colourful synths and guitar leads on “Time” and Ariana Grande’s vocals on the track making it a memorable moment on the album. There’s something bout the playful groove on “12.38” that makes it one of my favourites on the album. 21 Savage’s hidden verse is one of the pleasant surprises on here, and I think he absolutely kills it, especially on this groovy and experimental beat. I didn’t really care about the catchy groove of “19.10,” and the lack of structure on “24.19” makes the longest track on the album a slight disappointment, though I do enjoy the melody and groove of it. The rumbling and menacing tone of “32.22” doesn’t necessarily fit musically on the album, especially as it’s followed by the upbeat and joyful “35.31.” The “39.28” interlude gives way to a track Gambino fans would be familiar with, “42.26” aka “Summertime Again.” I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of this track on the album, and while I didn’t fall in love with the track when it came out in 2018, I enjoyed it much more in the context of this project. The instrumental shifts and moody nature of “47.48” make it quite a sweet and beautiful track. The funked-out, freaky tone of “53.49” closes the album with a bang, as Gambino brings an uplifting message, rejoicing about his life and everyone in it. It’s a great way to end this fascinating album.
The funny thing is that as I write this review I feel like the album has already grown on me. While instrumentally and thematically this album feels like a step-down from previous Childish Gambino releases, there is something about the playfulness and joyful energy of 3.15.20 that makes it such an engaging and interesting listen, especially during this difficult period of self-isolation. I’m sure that if I give it a few more listens I’ll enjoy it even more. So I commend Gambino on bringing something new to the table with this new project.
Listen to Childish Gambino’s 4th studio album 3.15.20 below via Spotify and don’t forget to support!