Donald Glover’s new album "03.15.20," released under his usual moniker, Childish Gambino, is a highly enjoyable but flawed experience that draws on his past albums, synthesizing parts of each into something new.
Described on Apple Music as a “one-track opus”, it’s very clear from the titles of the tracks merely being the timestamps in which the track starts in the overall runtime, save for “Algorhythm” and “Time,” that this album was meant to be treated as one, 57-minute-long song.
The album kicks off with “0.00,” a weak intro cut that features a robotic choir repeating a single refrain with ambient synth backing for three minutes. The album picks up in quality with the second track, “Algorhythm.” The track features Glover rapping over what I can only describe as a cyberpunk trap instrumental, with dystopian lyrics about selling your daughter on a data stream and everyone being an addict, clearly referencing social media.
The third track, “Time,” features Glover and a surprise feature from Ariana Grande musing about the uncertainty of life, and the only thing you can be certain about is that you’re running out of a time. The track is absolute ear-candy, with an incredibly warm instrumental featuring choirs, acoustic guitars, and very poppy synths.
As the album hits the meat of the track list, the quality becomes more hit or miss. “12.38” features Gambino musing about a psychedelic-laced encounter with a woman and features a fantastic guest verse from 21 Savage, my favorite verse of the year so far. “19.10” falters in its attempts to make a poppy and dance-able tune, due to poor mixing and a distinct lack of energy in the singing.
The tracks following that, “24.19” and “32.22,” are night and day in enjoyability, with “24.19” being a wonderful slow jam with Glover musing about being the toxic one in his relationship and ultimately thanking his partner for sticking with him despite him being the way he is. “32.22” tries to do everything “Algorhythm” did, but in a way that is more unapproachable and worse in quality.
The last five songs, from “35.31” to “53.49” are all varying degrees of good. “35.31” is a song that can only be described as “car commercial music, except with lyrics about drug dealing,” a premise that is more charming and catchy than it sounds. “39.28” is a simplistic ballad that features simple, mournful lyrics about bliss being cheap and calling to someone’s spirit. With Glover losing his father in December 2018, it’s not too much of a stretch to say this is him musing on the passing of his father.
Fans will recognize “42.26” as the 2018 single “Feels Like Summer,” and it’s just as fantastic now as it was then, even with a slightly altered mix. “47.48” features lyrics discussing violence, and the importance of living in the present over a nice and funky instrumental. The song is back-ended by an absolutely adorable discussion between Glover and his son Legend that will have you smiling.
If this is truly the last Childish Gambino album (as had been said by Glover at his Governor’s Ball performance in 2018), then “53.49” is a gorgeous, uplifting, and powerful note to go out on. With lyrics about loving yourself, doing what you want to do, and knowing you are not alone despite maybe feeling that way, and the most energetic performance by Glover on the whole album, coupled with a funky and highly dance-able instrumental, it’s just three minutes and 55 seconds of pure bliss, especially when Glover hits those upper registers when singing.
For fans of Glover and his music, you’re guaranteed to find at least one or two songs that you’ll enjoy. For those who are new to the world of music that Glover has built under the Childish Gambino moniker, you’re still likely to find a song that speaks to you. Despite a couple dips in quality within the tracklist, the album will at the best of times have you enjoying yourself and at the worst merely keep your attention. If this is Glover’s last musical venture, it’s a solid enough note to go out on.