Once in a while, an artist will come along that surprises me. Someone that has many influences and can incorporate them all with their own flavour into their music. Truly talented people are hard to find nowadays in a world where 17 year-old know-nothings can cut a record deal. This guy right here, though, is someone that completely blew me away. I honestly had never really heard his music until I heard that popular single "Redbone" on the radio (which I don't listen to often) one day. It made me want to know more. It made me want to hear more. I had decided to buy the album, and wow did it surpass my expectations!
I'm here to give my two cents on this album, the influences I hear, and the overall feel of each song.
1) Me and Your Mama: You don't know what to expect as soon as this journey begins. It all seems very innocent, even child-like. The beginnings gentle notes even remind me of Mr. Rogers a little. As the song progresses, you start to get the feel of maybe what's to come, but let me tell you, you have no idea! You will be surprised and maybe even a little weirded out. The song changes tone and feel again and it's very soulful in it's execution. It gives off a 70s vibe, especially with the raspy vocals displayed by Childish Gambino. The vocal style even made me think of Little Richard a bit.
2) Have Some Love: The style changes again and I catch myself tapping my foot. It starts with a simple beat, but so effective. A straight 4/4 beat on the drums and single notes played on the organ per measure. The vocals are what stand out to me the most. Personally, I've never heard such a vocal style in my life. It might be somewhere out there, but I personally had never heard something like this before until now. There's almost like an eagerness to it, I find. Almost like when someone is very anxious about something and trying very hard to hold in the excitement but failing miserably. The person gets all eager, starts talking in a very poorly contained voice, you can hear it in their throat, you can see they're about to pop and shout in excitement. I'm not sure how else to describe it. You'll hear more of this in the album. Anyhow, back to the song. More and more you hear different sounds and effects being added and layered, not to the point of confusion, but enough to elevate the song and keep things interesting and moving. As the song began, it ends with a gang of vocalists singing together in a very brotherly, familial sort of fashion.
3) Boogieman: This song, like a couple of others in this album, give me a bit of a Frank Zappa feel in the funk and uncommon sounds inside the track. It's quite experimental to me and it works well. All the "chaotic" sounds come together and form one song that you can groove to. I know what some might be thinking. Yes, I know the tempo changes are not as radical and prevalent as in Zappas compositions, but I'm talking straight sound here. The sounds all collide to form a tune with a back-beat and vocals. I'm a fan of this song as I'm sure you will be too.
4) Zombies: This is a bit of a slower jam, and something to slow-dance to. The instrumentation is a bit more tame to give the solid beat more "leg-room" if you will. I like the simplicity and its warmth. Dare I say, it reminds me a bit of Stevie Wonder. Smooth, groovy, and a bit sensual.
5) Riot: The mood is raised again with this little number. Being the shortest track on this record, it really packs a punch, audibly speaking, and seems to go by in a flash. There's a lot happening here, but, again, not overwhelming. The beat is loud and clear and is still something you can move to for sure. It's big and loud and proud, and gone before you know it.
6) Redbone: As many might agree, this is the best song on the album. The single that's getting loads of airplay, and turning many like myself onto the music of Childish Gambino. This is the smoothest song on the record, and the most memorable due to its simplicity. Now, when I first heard this song, I immediately thought, "That's Macy Gray", but the more I listened, the more I realized something was missing. Her signature rasp! I quickly Shazamed it and an artist I had never really heard of before popped up. The song had stuck with me, and I found myself looking up videos on YouTube and singing along. Soon after, I bought the album and I decided to write on it and the impact it had on me, and here we are. This songs music is so funky and captivating, but it's really just a vessel for the vocals to take center stage. There's also a hint of a sinister quality within the tune that I cannot describe. The voice really stands out and shines, and it's almost relaxing to a degree. I truly believe this was the greatest song of 2016, hands down, and still nothing has come close to this day.
8) Terrified: When I first heard this song, I could already imagine a music video for it. A dark, poorly lit stage or room with tons of fog all over, and the camera slowly revolving around the musicians. This song is the complete opposite of its predecessor; a musical U-Turn. Slow, simple, and you get the feel right away. This song is quite relaxing with its ambient audio and echo effect on the vocals.
9) Baby Boy: I feel like I'm in the disco era with this song, but one of those slow jams that people lightly sway to. What I really love about this track is the bass guitar. The music coming from it is titillating and really gets you moving! I can see this track fitting right in with the 70s and getting couples out on the dance floor. By now you can see just how diverse Childish Gambino is, and if you can't, you have NOT been listening.
10) The Night Me and Your Mama Met: I'm not sure how to describe this track, honestly. There are a few different genres/styles that are combined here that wouldn't make sense on paper, but somehow it works! Hardly any vocal work is present, and it helps, because you're trying to figure out this track the whole time that vocals would distract you.
11) Stand Tall: I love how this final song begins. Just a guitar with a funky sound and Childish Gambino comes in with his natural voice, and it's great! It's raw and shows how diverse and talented he is. If you can pull off making great music with just a couple of chords and your voice, you have true talent. That's why I admire acoustic artists, but I digress. About halfway, more elements are incorporated. The vocals go through auto-tune, but they're tastefully done, not like today's artists that use it to sound decent on record instead of using it as an instrument. Somewhere down the line in the song, a synthesizer starts to play continuous notes and all I could think of was Wendy Carlos (composer; "A Clockwork Orange") and when that stops, the sounds of the first tracks opening appear and show that this story is almost over. It's got the same musical schematic, but enhanced a bit to show how far the music has come. With a sudden stop, you're left wondering what happened.
This is a true musical roller-coaster! I truly believe this man is a genius. You don't just find music like this picking up a random CD off the shelf. Not many people can do what Childish Gambino did here on this album. From the simplest tunes to the most complex ones, he shows his true talent and his true self. The skill demonstrated on this record is so rare now, and I hope more is to come. I am a fan, and I will explore his music some more for sure, as should you.