The half-baked experimentation of Childish Gambino’s “3.15.20”

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Alyssa Beccue

"3.15.20" is Childish Gambino's first album since 2016's "Awaken, My Love!"

Gabriel Farhadian, Staff Writer

After three 2018 singles, Childish Gambino released his first full album since his 2016 “Awaken, My Love!,” entitled “3.15.20.”

Pitchfork rated the album a 6/10 due to its being “weighed down by impulses carried halfway to their endpoints and moments of frustrating pretense,” and as listeners, critics, and journalists attempt to examine the density of its truisms and themes, both lyrically and tonally, the album seems plagued by vagueness in spite of its originality. 

“0.00” opens with an ambient test tone, followed by a delayed vocal track which disturbs its serenity. Then the tone returns with a subtle force, pumping through with a soft and simple luxuriousness, almost seeming intended to lull listeners into a meditation.

“Algorythm” is the wake up call, starting promptly after “0.00.” The industrial underground electronic rhythms pair with a closely mixed, gritty vocal track.

In “Time,” heinously abrupt synthetic drums couple with a sentimental acoustic guitar and Gambino’s voice, sounding like Cat Stevens if he collaborated with an ’80s funk-pop group. In “12.38,” which the Verge compared to André 3000’s “Vibrate,” Gambino employs a woozy synth and smooth rhythm to benefit his high-pitched and playful vocals, reminding modern listeners of experimental hip-hop producer and rapper, JPEGMAFIA.

The vocals of “19.10” seem to be the first clear connection to Gambino’s classic singing, especially on “Awaken, My Love!,” until haunting insect sounds conclude the piece. It’s oddly composed like an old Les Baxter tribal soundscape.

“24.19” contains harps, harpsichords, distorted and clean guitars, and serene choral sections followed by a disturbing acid trip in space, with heart-beating pulses, and house bass lines ebbing in and out as if he was balancing on the edge of a drugged consciousness in a lowbrow urban electronica club. Gambino and his production crew somehow still manage to elicit the classic sunset R&B groove of Tyler, the Creator’s “OKAGA, CA.”

“32.22” is a catastrophic escape into the primal rituals of an animistic tribe paired, which before settling into what appears to be a baby or person gargling and moaning, backed by farm animals, features Travis Scott-like vocals. It reminds one of Kanye West’s “I Am A God,” which ends in a similarly disturbing sequence of manic screams.

“39.28” features operatic elements, layered harmonic vocals like those of Jacob Collier, and theatrical compositions. By the end, one could imagine Gambino staring listlessly through a fabricated set window, accompanied only by a piano in his lonely performance.

Childish Gambino succeeds in populating his work with a palette of truly high concepts, ranging in sound from animalistic rituals paired with autotune to surreal electro night clubs. Unfortunately, these ideas all seem to arrive still in their infant stages, not fully formed. Guided with the help of Ludwig Goransson, a previous collaborator who produced of Gambino’s hit “Redbone” and recently composed the score of “The Mandalorian,” the movements are choppy, and seem forcefully superimposed in the the compositions without a thought to the overall developed effect of each track. Sure, each song is packed with original content, but the listening sensation feels like a traffic jam of ideas, or drowning in a sea of bullet-pointed sticky notes. It is just too much. 

Gambino has the ability to develop truly novel concepts into complex and well-paced work, as he has shown in his visionary previous works, like “Baby Boy,” whose nearly 6 1/2 minute contents feature a simple harpsichord and Gambino’s motherly falsetto. These older successes brought forth such high concepts as were exhibited on “3.15.20,” but in a more developed cadence, where each idea seemed to be fleshed out and explored to a reasonable satisfaction. On “3.15.20,” Childish Gambino seems to display enough conceptual material to stretch into a whole additional album, but as of now, all fans have to enjoy is a sonic blackboard of scribbled ideas, stitched together as a patchwork mosaic of half-iterated novelties.