If you said back in the early days of Derrick Comedy that one third of that often hilarious sketch comedy group would one day become an artist whose cultural relevance could reach peaks higher than most artists dream, you might of thought that was impossible. These days nothing seems to be impossible. The world is changing at a breakneck pace for better and worse and Donald Glover seems to always be there with an artistic statement that not only captures the zeitgeist but seemingly rides it into the stratosphere. The multi hyphenate just dropped his latest opus under the Childish Gambino name and it is startling. The album was weirdly rolled out, streaming, on a website last week then abruptly pulled before anyone really knew what was happening. Today, with more time on our hands than we all probably care to think about, Glover unveiled what exactly he is up to. 3.15.20 isn’t only something that everyone will want to dig into but possibly, and time will tell, one of the best records to come out in this new decade. Coming off the success, commercially and artistically, of the last Childish Gambino release, the powerful “This Is America”, expectations were remarkably high and with 3.15.20, damn if Glover didn’t exceed those.
The record kicks off with the haunting “0.00” acting as almost a palate cleanser for what’s to come. With it’s spaced out synths and repeated refrain of “We Are, We Are, We Are” the track achieves hallucinatory heights. Jumping right into “Algorhythm” with an industrial beat and Glover’s mechanically affected lead vocals, tossing out bible references, throws you right into the proceedings. Glover just naturally brings an incredible gravitas to his music that few artists can’t seem to muster. Even with the chorus of “Everybody move your body, now do it, here is something that’s gonna make you move and groove”, the whole thing doesn’t feel at all frivolous, which is important as the message of how technology, especially the choices we make online, these that inform our own algorithms can be a danger to personal autonomy. Segueing perfectly into “Time”, Glover embraces his vocal prowess. The singer is naturally charismatic and the song with an assistance from Ariana Grande is a smart blast of bright and buoyant beats and more soul than you normally hear from even the highest regarded of singers. The record balances a lot of big ideas and does so in such a smooth way that it never feels like you are being beaten over the head with anything. It’s a journey you’ll want to take over and over again. Songs seem to turn on a dime, never in a jarring way but that enhance the listener’s experience. Each shift revealing more texture and colour than what came before. “12.38” jumps from an exquisite minimal funk groove and takes you on an adventure. The production is so masterfully done. “19.10” stomps out the gates with an energy that is balanced by Glover’s smooth vocal melody. Throughout the album you can hear Glover’s influences jump out of the speakers but he isn’t showing so much reverence to any artist except himself. “24.19” and “39.28” echo Prince but are both wholly Childish Gambino. “35.31” stomps into your headphones with a filtered out guitar line and a nursery rhyme-esque vocal performance that is pretty irresistible. “47.48” ends with Glover speaking with his son about all the things that he loves and the beauty of the simplicity of the sentiment is a great reminder of all the things we should remember to be thankful for everyday.
There is so much to dig into with 3.15.20 and it’s a journey that you’ll want to keep coming back to. Initially through the record’s amazingly intricate production and performances and then as time goes on to dig deeper into the sentiments that Glover is trying to impart. This is a dense but not confounding piece of work that speaks to it’s creators motivation and aspiration. Even at the best of times, this record would be just as widely embraced but now, in a world that is basically shutting its doors and people everywhere alone with the only comfort available found online, 3.15.20 may have arrived at the perfect moment. A soundtrack to days spent on Instagram live and in Google Hangouts, where a little love and a lot of patience will help us all get through each day.
review by Adam Fink