Childish Gambino’s “3.15.20” speaks to a world in limbo

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Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS

Childish Gambino performs on the main stage on the infield before the 140th running of the Preakness Stakes Saturday, May 16, 2015, at Pimiico Race Course in Baltimore, Md.

Needless to say, these are tumultuous times.

Billions are quarantined as COVID-19 runs rampant. The economy is spiraling into a historic crisis. It feels like an eternity has passed since fear of World War III dominated the headlines several months ago. Oh yeah, and the Earth is melting as we speak.

Musician, actor, comedian, writer, producer and general jack of all trades Donald Glover couldn’t have predicted a world in this much disarray when he created “3.15.20,” the fourth studio album under his stage name Childish Gambino. That only makes his latest project even more timely.

In many respects, this album is the fitting culmination of Glover’s musical evolution. One would be hard pressed to ascribe a single genre or even a controlling thesis to “3.15.20,” but his finest work of lyricism yet is highly reflective of humanity’s current uncertainties.

From its peculiar rollout to a blank white album cover to song titles simply conveying the timestamp within the album, “3.15.20” is shrouded in ambiguity. True to form, Glover has remained mum since the album’s release, presumably to preserve the listener’s ability for self-interpretation.

What he does give us, though, is a 12-track balancing act in terms of both substance and style. Glover and producer Ludwig Göransson feature a range of sounds from groovy four-on-the-floor beats to aggressive synth mixes to–my personal favorite–the duo’s latest foray into funk that picks up right where their acclaimed album “Awaken, My Love!” left off in 2016. Seldom does an artist conjure up songs reminiscent of Stevie Wonder and Kanye West on the same album.

“3.15.20’s” subject matter is equally diverse, if not a bit scattershot in its song-to-song transitions. “Algorhythm” pairs eerie sonics with heavily-filtered vocals to offer a chilling commentary on techno-industrialism and its dehumanizing effects. The very next track, “Time,” contemplates extinction and our understanding of reality before “12.38” lightens the mood with the witty tale of a drug-influenced fling.

Arguably the album’s most poignant moments, however, can be found in its final two songs: “47.48” and “53.49.” The former contrasts youthful innocence with an increasingly violent world, eventually fading into a conversation about self-love between Glover and his 3-year-old son Legend. The latter utilizes virtually every part of Glover’s musical toolbox, alternating between fierce rap verses and a smoothly sung chorus that forwards the theme of love and appreciating life.

Glover wrestles with societal and individual pain–“3.15.20” marks the first Childish Gambino release since the death of his father–but provides a sense of catharsis. Much like “Stand Tall,” the closer on “Awaken, My Love!,” suggested to “smile when you can,” Glover ends this album with the ever-apt conclusion on “53.49” that “there is love in every moment” as he proclaims “I did what I wanted to.”

If Glover’s Childish Gambino persona is indeed drawing to a close, he has left little unaccomplished. There is a case to be made for “3.15.20” as an early album of the year contender–and rightfully so. To capture today’s trepidation and what it means to be a human is a daunting task. It is also one that the always-ambitious Glover is anything but afraid to take on.

The Parkway West Pathfinder gives “3.15.20” a 9.6/10.