Table Of Contents
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By The Weeknd
The Weeknd is bound to elicit some emotion in almost anyone nowadays. Most people remember the irresistable hook of “Cant Feel My Face” from when it took the world by storm in the summer of 2015. Same for his 2016 album Starboy and his 2018 EP My Dear Melancholy. Other, more dedicated fans will remember when he was still developing his signature alternative RnB style in the Trilogy era earlier in the 2010s. With his already extensive catalogue, The Weeknd is one of the biggest names in popular music, and after 2 years, After Hours is a fitting return to the spotlight.
When “Heartless” and “Blinding Lights” came out, I was excited to see the new style and persona Abel Tesfaye would attempt to embody in this chapter of his journey as The Weeknd. Ahead of the release of 2016’s Starboy, Abel cut his iconic hairstyle and adopted a more approachable persona, still keeping his melancholy edge and integrating some new, more retro pop sounds into his library. This time around, he’s grown his hair out and doubled down on the glitz and glam of his last studio album with his bright red suit and grown out hair. The image on the cover of the album as well as the look he’s taken in the two promo singles for the record might suggest a darker, edgier chapter for The Weeknd, but in reality this record is quite the opposite.
As someone who got their start wistfully crooning about drugs, sex, and parties, Abel’s many years of living the high life are finally catching up to him. In the first stretch of the album, he opens up in his most genuine way yet as he ruminates on sins of the past. From the intro track “Alone Again” to the 6 minute long “Escape From LA”, The Weeknd sings in a way that’s more mature, more empathetic, and more heartfelt than ever before. Although this stretch of the record is a little slow, the emotions on display here easily make up for it.
From “Heartless” onward, the album takes on a poppier sound, doubling down on the 80s-style synths. “Heartless” is a classic Weeknd single, with his distinctive sound and delivery creating yeat another moody anthem. “After Hours” and “In Your Eyes” are as upbeat and retro as it gets with the latter even sporting a full sax solo. Closing on a somber note, “After Hours” and “Until I Bleed Out” tie the record up in typical Weeknd fashion, leaving listeners haunted and enthralled. The latter half of the album was definitely catchier and more thorougly realized from a musical end, but the lyrics here lose that genuine feeling present in the first half of the album.
All things considered, After Hours was another quality addition to The Weeknd’s catalogue with its own unique persona. While there isn’t any truly unique songwriting or forward thinking ideas that would push the record to the next level, it’s been a while since we’ve had The Weeknd at full force and it’s good to have him back.
I give After Hours by The Weeknd a 3 out of 5.
By Childish Gambino
It’s been a long few years for Childish Gambino fans. After the release of 2016’s Awaken, My Love! fans were left unsure of the future of Donald Glover’s critically acclaimed solo project. Glover had made several statements that directly implied the record following Awaken, My Love! was to be his final record. These claims turned the next few years from an exciting future to limbo – when would the final Gambino album be released? Would it be good? What will it be about? Will it be live Because The Internet? Will it be like Awaken My Love!?
Questions of this nature surrounded Glover’s musical career for over a year, while he casually brushed them off to continue focusing on his acting career and producing his TV show, Atlanta. In early 2018, with little word about the album already, “This Is America” was released alongside its symbolism laden video, which as of the writing of this post has over 600 million views. The song’s massive cultural impact brought Childish Gambino the musician back to the spotlight, as Donald Glover the actor exited stage. Later that summer, Gambino released Summer Pack, a two-track EP containing “Feels Like Summer” and “Summertime Magic”, again with no mention of an album. And for a long time, it stayed that way. There were occasional unreleased records performed here and there, many of which would not make the final cut, but no clear indication of the path ahead.
On March 15, the site donaldgloverpresents.com was advertised around the internet by entities tied to Childish Gambino, upon which a collection of songs was streamed on loop for 12 hours. 12 hours after launch, the music was removed and replaced with a week long countdown. At the end of that countdown, on March 22nd, the album was released on streaming platforms worldwide with a blank white cover and the title 3.15.20.
3.15.20 is an unkempt, complicated project. It’s not what I expected as Glover’s next step, but at the same time, it’s not unwelcome. Given the claims that the successor to Awaken My Love! was to be his last album as Childish Gambino, I expected a grand, elaborate project brimming with symbolism, depth, and creativity. What we got isn’t that, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely packed with creative production, unique ideas, and thought-provoking musical experiments. With no clear narrative thread, no clear theme, and generic time-stamped song titles (aside from “Algorhythm” and “Time”), the only way to really experience this is one track at a time.
The opener, “0.00” is very much an intro track. With sparse, ambient synths and vocalizations, the track sadly doesn’t reel me in as much as I had hoped. For a three-minute track, it’s surprisingly lacking. This disappointment is all washed away by the time “Algorhythm” slides into place, with its dark, futuristic beat and somewhat robotic vocals – and for once i’m using the word “robotic” as a positive descriptor. Usually I call artists robotic when their delivery is lifeless or autotuned to hell, but here Glover manages to utilize filters and effects to make his voice a perfect balance of rough humanity and robotic synthesized tones. Lyrically, the track deals with modern life, technology, and our dependence on it. Althought “Algorhythm” isn’t the opener, it might as well be: it shows us a newer side of Glover, a new sound, and new concepts. In a similar mental vein as 2018’s “Feels Like Summer”, the lyrics lament on the state of the world in a clear and bleak way.
The next song is “Time” with an uncredited feature from Ariana Grande. This track is more melodic and less gritty than “Algorhythm”, but still maintains the outlandish, futuristic flavor to a degree. Both songs so far have a somewhat experimental flavor to their production, similar and no doubt inspired by Kanye West’s Yeezus. As the track progresses the distant, washed-out vocals from both artists weave in and out, but in a way that commands little attention. “Time” stretches out over six minutes, not commonly seen in Gambino or Grande’s wheelhouse typically – which doesn’t help considering the track itself isn’t very fleshed out. Still, it’s creative and adds more to the new, lo-fi and lightly experimental sound Glover seems to be pursuing.
“12.38” is another six minute meandering exercise of Gambino’s new delivery and production. The subject of the track is laid-back shrooms trip with his lover, and as the concept implies the lyrics and instrumentals have psychedeleic flavor and a loose, wavy feel. Features from Khadja Bonet, 21 Savage, and Ink further expand upon the idea, adding the majority of the content and creative leaps made in the latter half of the track. So far, the past three tracks have all been standouts in their own way, even if it’s not in the traditional sense.
Sadly, the standouts slow down.
“19.10” is another longer, indie/lo-fi influenced track with skeletal percussion, soft synths and vocals, and a strange mix. Sometimes strange is good, but in this case, the mixing on this track just feels incompleted in an unfitting way. “24.19” is a slow, slogging continuation on of previous sounds, with a more funk-influenced Awaken, My Love! feel to it – this is possibly because the vocals at the beginning are almost directly reminiscent of “Redbone”. The first three to four minutes of the track blend together, and then what little changes come afterwards are either minimal or aggressively unpeasant towards the end of the track’s eight minute duration. “32.22” follows starting with a dense, bassy instrumental and severly autotuned, mumbly vocals. As the track develops, it becomes clear that Glover was attempting a more Travis Scott-inspired sound, but it comes across less pulled together, less enjoyable, and less psychadelic than expected.
Stretches like this in the album illustrate the risky nature of such a release. With little to no promotion, little artistic direction outside of the music, and no branding or media hype whatsoever, the album relies entirely on its musical contents in a way many other released from esteemed artists can circumvent with chart topping singles and memorable motifs. And on some tracks, that’s great. You get creative, unique expression that shows growth as an artist and promises even more growth in the future. On others, it just feels like aimless noodling and toying around.
It’s clear that this album has its highs and its lows – thankfully, the remainder of the tracklisting has more highs than lows which ultimately balances this project out. “35.31” has a lighter, more sunny sound. Its hook has a more lopsided lyrical delivery that’s matched by the relatively rough, uncleaned and unprocessed sound of the instrumentals. As the song progresses, the introduction of choir vocals and additional melodies really helps it flourish. This sound goes on for a brief while, but the song still continues for another solid minute afterwards with a more bassy, trap-influenced instrumental on the back half.
“39.28” was one of the more curious tracks on this record for me. The echoey, synth-chorus vocals at the introduction immediately bring “Bohemian Rhapsody” to mind, and had me excited for what could possibly be Donald Glover’s take on the concept. Keys slowly bleed into the track, adding depth and developing a more brooding, sad tone. This continues for a while before the end of the track, and honestly leaves me more disappointed than any other part of the album. For a record so full of uncharacteristically long-winded tracks, why did Glover not choose this moment to be one of them? It’s not a bad track by any means, and I like it a lot for what it is. But aside from being a standout in a long string of unusual musical exercises, it is a missed opportunity. Simple as that.
“42.26” is “Feels Like Summer” under a new title. As the song is two years old and has had plenty of time to develop in public conscience, I don’t really have much to add here except that the dichotomy between the heat that brightens our summer and the heat that kills our planet certainly feels right at home given some tracks on the album like “Algorhythm”, as does the musical direction Glover took when originally releasing this.
“47.48” has a bluesy, soulful feel with its twangy, somewhat off-key instrumentals. The chorus has the same layered, echoey sound as many other on the album, but in the context of this instrumental it feels more at home here than on other tracks. As a slow, smooth track, this is the calm before the storm that is “53.49”. “53.49” has more aggressive delivery, fatter bass, and more southern hip hop elements than any track on the album. The track is further developed with soulful prechoruses and more chant-like vocals towards the end, making it as fitting a finale as any for such a project.
3.15.20 has many up and downs. Some tracks feel like a new, unique side of Glover that I can’t wait to see more of. Some feel like half-baked studio sessions with stereotypical lo-fi/indie production thrown on top to try and hide the issues within. At the end of the day, the pros outweigh the cons, and leave this album in a curious but respectable position. My main concern is that if this truly is Gambino’s final album, it will represent significantly wasted potential: the sound Glover has searched for here has a lot of promise as shown by some of the better moments on the record, but is still clearly not at its apex. With another year or two, and another more fully realized shot at a similar concept, Gambino could reach a new and exciting creative peak.
I give 3.15.20 by Childish Gambino a 3.5 out of 5.
Other New Releases
There’s not enough time for me to give a full review to every project that comes out – so here’s the rest of the new music that I listened to this week but didn’t have a chance to review. Releases with a star next to the title are the ones I liked most!
What The Dead Men Say ⋆
By Trivium // Single
By Troyman // EP
By Tokimonsta // Album