Childish Gambino: 3.15.20 (2020) – Album Review

Since the release of perhaps the most well-loved single of 2018, “This Is America,” Childish Gambino fans have been waiting for a new, full-length record. His past two LP’s; Because The Internet (2013), and Awaken, My Love! (2016); were some of the most touted releases of the 2010’s, so the long wait was, quite honestly, frustrating. But when Mr. Glover finally decided to drop his new LP a few weeks ago, everyone was excited. Everything preceding it had shown us his ability to find a style, and stick to it, as well as create music that was both fun, and cerebral. Sadly, while several of those traits appear on the record, its huge potential is bogged down by its enormous length, and lack of cohesion.

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Album cover to Childish Gambino’s Awaken, My Love!

The intro track, “0.00” is not a horrid track by itself, but like a lot of the record, is unnecessarily drawn out. Made up of wavering, background synths, and a repetitive, echoey “We are,” it could easily act as a fine transitional piece, or intro. But rather than a solid three minutes, I think one would’ve easily been enough. Next, we have the first true song on the album, “Algorhythm;” which acts as an industrial rap banger. After starting with a light, but ominous beat, Glover comes in with a distorted, monotone, almost-demonic verse about our harmful relationship with technology. “Supercomputer status, walkin’ along streets / Everyone is an addict, stumbling concrete” is just one example of these bars. The track continues to go in this direction, but with the juxtaposition of a silky-smooth, blues-and-funk-style chorus. After two verses, it devolves into a reserved chaos that peters out, before too long. While industrial hip-hop isn’t new, and a lot of these stylistic choices have been done before, I do enjoy the track overall. Its mix of harsh over-aggression, and calming tones acts as a nice balance, while they let the beat do the rest of the work.

“Time” follows up on a lot of the same ideas as the second track on the record, by mixing very poorly-produced, heavily-emphasized beats with a very bright, 80’s guitar melody. The general concept reminds me of the tail-end of Poppy’s song “Concrete,” where an otherwise-heavy track somehow becomes a song easily-sung by Phil Collins. The addition of Ariana Grande adds the necessary flavor to make it a fun, relaxing track, but it, too, drags on too long. The last two minutes of the six-minute piece are made up of instrumental transitions, and an electronic Donald Glover; both of which add very little to the track as a whole.

The following tracks; “12.38” and “19.10;” both take fun, passable instrumentals, and do their best to make them get old as quickly as possible. The first is a laid-back beat, filled with layered guitars and synths, while the second brings a more upbeat, abrasive pounding that works alongside a very bouncy synth line. As I said, neither of those instrumentals, in a vacuum, are problematic at all; but when you refuse to use any sort of musical transition, and each song is five or six minutes long, it just doesn’t hold up. When you add on some lyricism that isn’t necessarily fantastic, it creates two tracks with a very strong baseline to work from, and ruins them entirely. “Come and go and you get tulips / Put a finger to my two lips,” is one of several one-liners that don’t do it for me.

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You might sense a pattern, because once again, “24.19” is a great idea for a song, if it didn’t happen to be eight minutes long. While it’s minimalist, the quiet, soothing guitars, and super lazy beat accompany Glover’s voice in a borderline-ballad. And while the lyrics aren’t actually poor, or poorly executed, you could easily cut three or even four minutes out of the track, and lose nothing of importance. Then “32.22” is certainly the weirdest, and most out of place track on the record. In an attempt to capture many releases before it, it seems Childish Gambino wanted to take as many obnoxious things, and throw them into one song. Its beginning isn’t inherently awful, providing just a simple, pulsating hum; but throughout the track, it layers, layers, and layers, until it becomes a cacophony; but not a meaningful, or pleasant one.

“35.31” is probably the most unique stylistic track, in regards to the context of this record. Consisting of an incredibly quick and upbeat (relatively), swinging guitar, and very country-esque lyrics, you have about as close to a recreation of Lil Nas X’s aesthetic as I’ve seen. And I quite enjoy it. But – and I can’t stress this enough – it does not need to be four minutes in length; especially when the last two of those are just repetitions of the chorus. “39.28” is a fine, almost-interlude, with very pleasing, synthetic vocals and some somber pianos. I have no issue with the track, but at the same time, I wouldn’t say it’s great.

“42.26” was also known, previously, as “Feels Like Summer,” from one of Glover’s other 2018 singles. It’s a very relaxing track that I would imagine watching a sunset to; and reminds me of something the Gorillaz have done before, as well. Although I can’t quite put my finger on it, it’s very similar to some of what’s on Plastic Beach (2010).

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Finally, we’re left with the last two tracks: “47.48” and “53.49.” “47.48” is actually one of my favorites on the record. Its slow tempo and lack of real, strong instrumental put all of the focus on Glover’s lyrics, and his words; both of which are gorgeous on this track. It surrounds violence in our culture, and its prevalence, which is more relevant now than ever, it seems. Then, the most beautiful part is the outro of him talking to his son about who he loves. It gives me goosebumps, much like a few select moments on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo (2016). The finale is weird, and uneventful, for a record that seems to want to be very “out there” and experimental. While his delivery is comicly overdone, the track doesn’t do much that’s special. The percussion is very par-for-the-course, and even if you surround it with a variety of belting lyrics, and hymns, it doesn’t go very far.

3.15.20 brings a lot of decent-to-good ideas, with often-poor execution. While, honestly, a majority of the tracks do something incredibly well, they either milk it for way too long, or end up throwing in some unnecessary piece that blows the whole thing up. Even with my favorite track, “Algorhythm,” the very intense approach to most of the lyrics begins to get stale in the last sixty seconds. If each track were an average of one or two minutes shorter, I think this could easily be upwards of a 7.5. A lot of the hooks are incredibly enjoyable. Some of the topics he chooses are both important, and well-touched-upon. And even some of the weirdness pays off occasionally. But I can’t just skip the last two minutes of every track and pretend they’re not there. As a result, I’m going to give it a 6/10.

Favorite Track(s): “Algorhythm,” “35.31,” “47.48”

Least Favorite Track(s): “32.22”

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