Category: Music Review

Review: Awaken, My Love

Donald Glover has flourished in 2016 with his casting as Lando Calrissian in the upcoming Han Solo Star Wars spinoff alongside his critically acclaimed show Atlanta. Now Glover, aka Childish Gambino, is back with a brand new album. Straying away from the almost juvenile rap of his previous projects, this latest effort is heading in a new direction.

Although hinted at in his Stn Mtn mixtape, Awaken, My Love is straight vintage funk. Gambino carefully creates a unique and easily distinguishable barrier between himself and others reviving seventies funk of old such as Chance the Rapper. There is clear inspiration drawn from the likes of Eddie Hazel and Bootsie Collins, the latter of which he samples in the track Redbone. Perhaps the worst aspect of the album is that it might make up the subtotal of his escapades in the genre.

Even though Gambino is toying with an older sound, he approaches it with new production using electronic elements such as autotune which is applied very tastefully. The instrumental talent is notable using clean percussion beside funky bass riffs as well as some exceedingly well executed solos. Overall the music production is spotless but also very diverse with the sensual Redbone among darker songs such as Zombies and ballads like Baby Boy

. The flow of this album is worthy of praise with a distinct separation in tone between the first and second halves. The first of which with its energetic and punchy songs contrast beautifully with the deeper and more emotional tracks on the second. Gambino seems to be heading towards more developed sound than his previous material, however the two are not entirely comparable due to the change in genre. The lyricism especially has seen a large shift in maturity, from references to issues for black men in today’s America on the track Boogieman, to talk of the crumbling relationship with his child’s mother on the track Baby Boy.

Nevertheless, there are some flaws with the album, primarily the track California. The vocals are strained and overly autotuned leading to an irritating moaning sound which is disappointing due to the potential in the funky keyboard and bass riffs. Furthermore, Gambino sometimes overwhelms the accompaniment in songs such as Boogieman in a manner which is reminiscent of his previous work and the track Riot seems underwritten and ends suddenly which throws away the initial promise it creates.

Awaken, My Love demonstrates the versatility of Gambino in entering a new genre. Whilst not being perfect, there is ground to believe that this project is able to hold its own against more established funk and soul artists such as Anderson .Paak. There is a solid basis for expansion in future work and it would be a crying shame if we see this genre abandoned in his return to rap.

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Review: I See You

I See You is the third album from the London based indie band The xx. Surging into stardom in the late 2000’s, The xx is known for minimalistic production and sedated beats. However, this latest effort is their most musically complex to date.

With each subsequent release, it becomes obvious that Jamie XX is incorporating more and more electronic elements into the band’s tracks. Their self titled debut album was noted for using very few artificial components, employing a laid back acoustic style. The follow up, Coexist, a more atmospheric work, is a perfect middle ground between the two.

A key difference between this album and those before it is the use of samples. In order to easily transition from studio to concert, Jamie and co previously restricted the variety of their arrangements, however this is not the case for I See You. Using samples has allowed them to create a sound which is not only catchy but also familiar, and as a result we see some surprisingly lively tracks such as lead single ‘On Hold’. Released at the tail end of 2016, ‘On Hold’ wonderfully samples Hall and Oates’ 1981 hit ‘I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)’, becoming by far the poppiest track in The xx’s discography.

Another new aspect is the use of additional accompaniment. The ballad ‘Performance’ beautifully uses strings to add to its emotional nature, discussing the illusion of pretending to be fine when in reality everything is falling apart. Furthermore, ‘Lips’ has a wonderful choral backing which is unlike anything we’ve seen from them before. Featuring a sample of David Lang’s ‘Just’, guitarist/vocalist Romy Madley Croft explained how the lyrics were written around the beat, which presented them with new challenges.

Unfortunately, there are a few minor issues in the album, most notably the sudden endings to a few of the songs such as ‘A Violent Noise’ and ‘Say Something Loving’. It comes off as lazy songwriting and is immensely disappointing given the excellent build-ups present. Additionally the vocal chemistry between Romy and Oliver seems nonexistent at times, especially in ‘Say Something Loving’. This leads to the emotive and often hard-hitting lyrics not having as much of an impact as intended.

Shortcomings aside, I See You is the xx’s best album to date. They seem to be taking more risks by increasing the number of layers used and it pays off, creating a more mature and compositionally richer sound. The finale, ‘Test Me’, is a testament to the band’s previous struggles and a signal that they are far from finished.