Review Summary: Rec League.
Whatever your feelings towards Donald Glover the musician, you have to respect the effort he put into publicizing his new album Because the Internet
. Besides exploring new and vast territories sonically, Glover wrote a 70-something page screenplay meant to accompany listening to the album, and even recorded a few silent scenes to underscore the various punches of the record. Everything about this new album alludes to a more mature and experimental Gambino; he built his (Wu-Tang generated) name on dick jokes and cheesy, albeit endearing punchlines, but that playful vibrancy that detailed his back-catalog is all but gone in 2013, an oft-forlorn, more personal Childish Gambino replacing the old one with cliché Hollywood despondency and slurred, Drake-esque coping, drowning in the haze and lechery of it all – his indifference before the penitence. Sonically, Because the Internet
is an ambitious mess of experimental success and perfunctory failures – as a whole, the production is stellar and largely innovative. Gambino and Ludwig Goransson pluck notes from all across the sonic spectrum for Gambino’s undertones, opening with the haunting, parched desert of “The Crawl” and its seamless transition in and out of a somber orchestral interlude that you might hear during a particularly moody segment of FX’s Louie
. Other instrumental standouts include “Shadows”, which sports a tight, noodling math rock (yeah you read that right) beat, and the rumbling, hypnotic 3AM daze eddying the cloudy, not-so-lurid story of Gambino’s first murder (disclaimer/spoiler alert: it’s a spider) on “No Exit”.
For the impressive work on the boards though, Gambino’s lyricism has taken a step back. Previously an almost exclusively punchline rapper, there are few to be found on the album. Most of the low-key cleverness that made Childish Gambino songs interesting and easy to get through has been abandoned for a more “artistic” style of rapping – he’s varying his flows more but verses are now emaciated banalities, sometimes even truncated 4-6 bar offerings that just seem longer due to his acrobatics and the difference that the instrumentals truly make; furthermore, even the times when he does try to be comedian Donald Glover the jokes just come off as stale and unoriginal (“Half-Thai thickie all she wanna do is Bangkok”, har har). His hooks have gotten better though, and despite peppering most of the album with samey sing-song hooks, they’re at the very least tolerable, if not brief and enjoyable intermissions (“The Worst Guys”, “Shadows”). In addition to the hooks though, Gambino has removed all traces of rap on some songs and left only his crooning; the latter half of the album is honestly more of a neo-soul affair than anything else. And as interesting as that may sound to some readers, most of these songs end up being unnecessary and extraordinarily lengthy excursions into the world of the proverbial tormented artist (“Flight of the Navigator”) that ultimately paints Gambino as an overindulgent bromide, penning flatulent songs that attempt to profoundly uncover the webbed corridors and unlatched recesses of his mind but fall flat when the progression of the songs suggest that he really has nothing to say. The unfortunate truth is that though the album starts out strong with its arresting production and standout tracks (“The Crawl”, “The Worst Guys”, “Shadows”, “No Exit”), there’s not much reason at all to venture past the first half of Because the Internet
, and that, coupled with Donald Glover’s bipolar identity disorder is what ultimately makes his newest album little more than a well-wrapped platitude.