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Childish Gambino at the Squamish Valley Music Festival 2013

April 3, 2020

TEST SPIN | ‘3.15.20’ is Disjointed

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In the wake of a global pandemic, Donald Glover’s 3.15.20 speaks to a community in chaos. An experimental musical landscape which combines moments of R&B, rap, pop and electronic, this LP has an untidy mix and somewhat low production at times. The album lacks any coherent artistic vision upon first listen, and while there are some beautiful moments throughout, it appears that the music has been stifled by ambition.

This is the fourth studio album for Glover, also known as Childish Gambino, and it has been much anticipated in the four years since the release of the dreamy ode to ‘70s R&B, Awaken, My Love! Childish Gambino became a household name with the 2018 release of “This is America,” a groundbreaking commentary on guns, violence and the experience of black Americans. This track was widely publicized and received in part because its release coincided with Glover hosting Saturday Night Live. In contrast, the release of 3.15.20 has been shrouded in mystery. It was originally released on 3/15/2020, on the website donaldgloverpresents.com which seemed to have been created specifically for the album’s release. It was pulled from the site just 12 hours later, and re-released on all streaming platforms after a week. The album cover is simply a blank square, while the track list is overwhelmingly just timestamps, with tracks like “12.38” and “35.31.”

The track list suggests that this album is a musical moment rather than a collection of songs, and it certainly offers more of an impact if listened to as a whole. Throughout the experience, the only time a listener can catch their breath is in the transitions between tracks, which feature some of the most anarchic moments of the album. Take, for example, one of the only titled tracks, “Time,”  which ends with a fascinating electronic lagoon soundscape, “24.19,” which features a wave of irregular, panicked, erotic breathing, amidst a flurry of drums, followed by a slow decline into deep inhales, or “32.22,” which features an absurd jumble of farm animal noises. These moments drop the listener into a space that is essentially completely separated from the rest of the song, and in many ways, incomprehensible. What are we supposed to make of a barnyard scene following the hyper-aggressive, blown-out cacophony of “32.22”? That is for the listener to figure out. In 3.15.20, there is no guide. We are left to fend for ourselves.

The album does call back to many of Gambino’s previous works. The track “12.38” chronicles a romantic night tripping on magic mushrooms, and features punchy, comical verses reminiscent of Gambino’s 2013 release Because the Internet, such as the lines:  “She said, eat this psilocybin…  Ayy, I don’t know what psilocybin is (No) / This better not be no molly.” The feature by 21 Savage breaks up the borderline monotony of the six minute track with references to black success and police brutality.

“24.19” draws us back to by far the most celebrated track of Awaken, My Love!, “Redbone,” but this time in a modulated, lofi, drowsy tone as Glover crafts a nearly eight minute open love letter to “sweet thing.” The track features musing on the impossibility of loving and being loved, in lines such as “Sometimes I wonder why you love me / But you love me / I always make you cry / No matter how I try / Sometimes I wonder why / Why would you ever want to love me? / Must you love me?” Some lines feature an earnest yet undeniably condescending tone which explores the difficulty of accepting love before accepting oneself: “You’ll end up meeting someone better, sweet thing / But I can only be myself, sweet thing / You’ll still believe in fairytales, sweet thing / You sweet thing.” Soaring with a light gospel expression of gratitude for enduring love, “24.19” is one of the warmest spots on the album.

One of the obvious motifs of this album is dissonance, as Glover masterfully combines lyrical darkness with light vocals and instrumentals. The emerging hit of the record, “Time,” is an R&B-pop fusion; featuring Ariana Grande, the song displays all the synthy levity of ‘80s pop, with a catchy acoustic guitar lick, but closer look at the lyrics reveals an exploration of the inherent uncertainty of time itself:  “Maybe all the stars in the night are really dreams / Maybe this whole world ain’t exactly what it seems.” Glover asks: What are the true implications of the human timeline, and are they self-imposed? Still, the track, like many, is not cleanly cut and drags on long after its point has been made.

There are as many low points as there are high. The punny-titled track “Algorhythm,” though danceable, contains some of the most vapid, wanna-be profound verses of the album, including: So very scary, so binary, zero or one  / Like code is like coal mine canary / I dream in color, not black and white / You sell your daughter on that data stream.” “32.22” is a low-effort and frankly unlistenable attempt at aggressive bars reminiscent of Kanye West’s Yeezus era.

While 3.15.20 is far from Glover’s best work, it leaves a lot to explore in times of self-isolation, revealing new tropes and tensions on each listen. It is less a piece of well-crafted art as it is an exploration of the chaotic, disjointed essence of the human experience.

 

Anna Canny is a junior in the College of Agricultural Life and Sciences. She can be reached at aec272@cornell.edu.