"Awaken, My Love!"
On the face of it, Donald Glover’s “Awaken, My Love!” is a museum-quality rip of early-’70s funk and soul: the faded vocals, the fuzzed-out guitars, the collective sense of chaos and exuberance. But it’s also more than that. Glover said he’d started with childhood memories of his parents playing Funkadelic and The Isley Brothers on the stereo: specific sounds and songs, but more importantly, a general feeling—one that Glover wasn’t quite old enough to grasp.
Like a funhouse mirror, he stretches his influences into weird shapes: The freak-outs are exaggerated to the point of comedy (“Me and Your Mama”) and the ballads romantic to the point of creepy (“Terrified”). It makes for a tonal fluidity that also marks his work on the television show Atlanta, which he created. Coming from an artist known for taut wordplay and manically constructed similes, the broad strokes of Awaken are a shift: You’ll think eventually, but mood comes first.
And in the wake of Black Lives Matter protests that followed the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and so many more, Glover’s choice to echo a period in Black music when artists took on an explicitly revolutionary cast is a canny complement to albums like Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly and Solange Knowles’ A Seat at the Table, both of which explored Black identity with new urgency. The result is an experiment in time travel: Through sounds of the past, he captures the tensions of the present.