Album Review: Childish Gambino – 3.15.20

It’s hard to believe it’s already been 2 years since the now iconic, Grammy-winning “This Is America” rocked the industry along with its thought-provoking visuals.

It’s also hard to believe its been 4 years since the brilliant “Awaken, My Love”, the nostalgic love-letter to 70s funk greats like Funkadelic and Bootsy Collins and, til now, Donald Glover’s most ambitious project under the guise of Childish Gambino.

Glover has been ridiculously busy over this period, mostly Hollywood related: Helming acclaimed TV series “Atlanta”, taking the reigns of a young  Lando Calrissian in “Solo: A Star Wars Story”, starring in the new “Lion King” remake and even Amazon snapped him up for “Guava Island”, alongside Rihanna.

But even with all of this, music has not been on the back-burner.

After powerful ambient piece “0.00” sets the table, “Algorhythm” revels in its stomping weird glory. Equal parts “Yeezus-era” Kanye, present day Weeknd and hallmarks of later-day Prince are all thrown into the pot here.  It’s a fierce statement of intent for anyone expecting Redbone Part Two, with clattering electronic drums, swirling synths and falsettos creating probably the soundtrack to a lot of film and TV trailers in the coming months.

“Time” is an almost cinematic stab at Pop music for stadiums, with gang vocals and drum claps that scream audience participation. You can almost see the lighting techs at festival salivating at the prospect of working during this one.

And although the opener is grandiose, the album as a whole is more restrained, preferring long, dreamy jams that tread the line between artist expression and self-indulgence. “12.38” and “24.19” are both in the region of 6-8 minutes each and don’t really end up anywhere significant, though this meandering may be intentional. This isn’t an album for the club, more for blissed out days in the sun, a relaxed BBQ soundtrack of sorts.

When the heat is turned up, although momentarily, “19.10” “53.49” are probably your go-tos. Both are energetic funk jams that are so Prince-like it’s funny, the former probably being one of the stand-out tracks on the album in terms of sheer groove.

The rest of the pack tends to fall lazily together to mixed results.  “42.26”, (the former “Feels like Summer) has been out for a while now so it’s hazy Isley Brothers vibe has worn off. “35.31” sounds like Apple advert music written by Maroon 5 and “47.48” is another forgettable mid-tempo jam.

These slower jams are not unwelcome, it’s just they’ve previously been done much better and more effectively on “Awaken..”.

It does feel as though he’s in 2nd gear throughout this project.  The pacing of the album is difficult to get through, slowing down significantly just as it begins to pick up, and with absence of any big singles to draw you in, it feels more like an album of b-sides and ideas just strung together, rather than something cohesive with more meat on the bone as it were.

Despite a few solid tracks, “3.15.20” doesn’t really hold up with Childish Gambino’s previous outings.  The songs are warm, noodling experiments pierced with the crunchy analog machines of the past, attempting to blend Glover’s adoration of P-Funk with the current indie dream-pop so popular amongst mainstream festival-goers.

You could see what he was going for here: a pocket somewhere between Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times” and Tame Impala’s “Currents”.  It just doesn’t quite land on the mark.