Childish Gambino - '3.15.20' Album Review
By Jordan Labarr
The jack of all trades, Donald Glover (aka. Childish Gambino) has returned to gift his listeners with a 12-track album titled 3.15.20. The album’s title is a reference to the date he streamed the album in its entirety on a continuous loop on the website donaldgloverpresents.com; fans were both surprised and elated to see this stream but as soon as it came it mysteriously disappeared and was replaced with a countdown which led to it finally being released on streaming platforms on Sunday 22nd of March.
With the album cover featuring a simple white background and a number of the tracks off the album being named after their placement in the album’s runtime (e.g. with the first track being '0.00'), it seems Glover is trying to let the music speak for itself by taking this minimalistic approach to this albums concept. If we look at Glover’s track record when it comes to the album’s he’s released under his moniker Childish Gambino they all seem infused with some sort of narrative that gives them a richer feel when it comes to their conceptualisation, but with this album we see a scarceness of any form or structure. So, I would argue from the outset this looks more like a collection of songs as opposed to an album (but for the sake of this piece I will refer to it as an album).
Also, before I get into dissecting the album, I would like to clarify that I will be calling him by his real name Donald Glover as opposed to his moniker Childish Gambino in this piece. It is important to make this distinction because I feel this album is coming from Glover as a person instead of the musical identity he has constructed. My justification of this comes from the fact this album was streamed on the website called donaldgloverpresents.com and the letter that was attached on the website is simply signed off with ‘D’. With this in mind as well as an understanding of the lack of conceptual aesthetic to the album I feel like this project is an attempt by Glover to achieve some transparency in the way he is communicating his art without hiding it under the veneer of characters and narratives he previously used in his music (E.g. when he wrote a 72 Page screenplay alongside his 2013 Album Because the Internet).
Alongside the album’s release Glover also uploaded an enigmatic letter he had written. In the letter Glover goes on to retell a story about his meeting with an oracle and being about ‘cleansed’, he goes onto recount this spiritual experience and others, including one where he recalls being in the midst of a chaotic riot and another one being a dream where his now deceased father was holding his unborn child. A sense of grief and guilt lays the backbone of Glovers words throughout yet intertwined within this melancholy is an acceptance and understanding of who he is and what he wants to be doing going forward. I think the letter acts as a foreword for what the album tries to encapsulate about Glover and his experiences in the last few years since the release of his 2016 album Awaken my Love; this album is an assortment of Glover’s thoughts and feelings, and in this piece I will identify aspects of the album I found significant and well executed.
The first track ‘0.00’ features the repeated refrain “We are” against some ambient production before moving on to the album’s first titled track called ‘Algorhytum’. An earlier version of this was released to a select few fans a few months prior to the albums release but here we find it much more mixed and mastered. This song features some infectious production from producers such as Kurtis McKenzie, DJ Dahi, E.Y and Glover himself and with part of the chorus being “Everybody move your body, now do it, Here is something, that's gonna make you move and groove” one can’t help but be swayed by the catchiness and charm that this song promotes.
Yet hiding under this dance infused facade is the existential dread and questioning that finds its way into a number of tracks on this album. Lyrics such as “Humans don't understand, humans will sell a lie, Humans gotta survive, we know we gon' die, Nothing can live forever, you know we gon' try”. Here Glover battles the idea of the ignorance and greed he believes humans suffer from but then contrasts that with the impermanence of life and how we try to defy it. This blend of dance and dread makes for a great and chaotic track.
The next track ‘Time’ continues this theme of existentialism and opens with the line “Seven Billion people, tryna free themselves” as Glover goes on to question the nature of reality itself, confessing that we may be running out of time (a similar sentiment is expressed in the albums 10th track ‘Feels like Summer). He is assisted by Ariana Grande, who provides her vocals to various verses here and there and the Brent Jones and the Best Life Singers who can be heard amplifying Glover’s own vocals on this song’s chorus.
Moving away from the more metaphysical questioning, Glover shines the brightest on this album when he is navigating the theme of Love, (which he is a veteran at doing, as evidenced by his hit song ‘Redbone’). Tracks like ‘12.38’ have Glover detailing comical exchanges he had with one of his lovers, on this track his flow and delivery is reminiscent of Andre 3000; with tongue and cheek lyrics and a feature from 21 Savage this is one of the more light hearted tracks on the album. The next track that centres love as its premise is the song titled “24.19”. In this track we see Glover recognise the mistakes he has made in his relationship and try to come to terms with letting his partner know that he appreciates everything they have done for him; with pitched vocals and funk like production Glover is in his element and pours his heart out in arguably one of the best tracks on the album.
We also see Glover making subtle social commentary as well illustrated on tracks like “47.48” where he tries to tackle staying in the present while also having to deal ‘the violence’ he sees around him. The track closes with a conversation he has with his son Legend about love which ends with his son professing his love for himself, his parents and in turn asking his father if he loves himself, to which Glover replies “I do love myself”. This was not only heart-warming but also reflective of the acceptance and self-love Glover is trying to communicate in this project. We see a similar theme crop up in the track ‘19:10’ where Glover recalls his father telling him to love himself and goes on to explore the dangers yet beauty of occupying a black body. This idea of self-love culminates in this album’s outro track ’53,49’ with lyrics like "never said it even though I prolly should (Woah) I said I love me, l said I love me"; with energetic production from James Francies, Jr and DJ Dahi, and intense delivery and singing from Glover this makes for a great closing track.
Since there is no coherent genre or sound to a lot of these tracks on the album they feel like they were just thrown together, and while for the most part this is a good thing not all of these tracks are able to hold their own. Tracks like ‘35.31’ feel very jarring and cringey as we see Glover try to incorporate country into his repertoire and while I am all for artists practising genre fluidity this just wasn’t executed well. Other tracks that fell short included ‘32.22’ for its barely audible lyrics due to the distortion in Glover’s vocals.
For the most part this album provided a snapshot into Glover’s mind that I felt was lacking on other projects, so I enjoyed the transparency and feelings he was trying to communicate. I think there were some great songs on here that solidify Glover as a great artist and master of his craft, but there are also songs on here that show he doesn’t hit the mark every time and they ruin the cohesiveness of an otherwise good project. To conclude, this is a great collection of songs from Glover but not a good album in the sense of what we understand an album to be, I think if you remove the confinements that the term album creates you can enjoy this project way more without reaching for the finer conceptual details an album entails.
Listen to the album below: