Despite being a man of very few words, Glover has always seemed to have a pulse on society and has been able to critique the current times we are living in from afar. Especially during a time when an entire world has been ordered to self-isolate in order to stop the spread of a deadly disease, it seems that this surprise drop comes from a place of solace as Glover mentions some of the personal changes in his own life such as his father’s recent passing and Glover becoming a father of 2 himself. Perhaps the silent release of 3.15.20 demonstrates the manic state in which the world is currently in, and that there will always be ways to numb the pain with little distractions like music and art, mimicking a similar theme with the “This Is America” music video.
Nevertheless, we have been graced with the gift of new music from Childish Gambino, and whether or not 3.15.20 is in fact the final album is still a complete mystery as Glover tends to gravitate towards being more mysterious rather than transparent. And upon first glance of the blank album art and song titles being timestamps in which the songs appear on the album, it seems that there are already more questions than answers even before pressing play.
Right off the bat we get “0.00,” a very minimalist, ambient track with a hovering electric piano chord held throughout the duration of the song partnered with a reverb-drenched vocal refrain continually singing “We are, we are, we are.” Given the 3-minute run time, I would definitely say that “0.00” overstays its welcome just a bit. Especially given the context that this may potentially be the final Childish Gambino album, cushioning out the intro track with this much filler already feels like a disservice to the listening experience. It is not for certain as to how we as the listeners are supposed to interpret this track and what’s its true purpose is being placed at the forefront of 3.15.20, but personally, it leaves a rather sour taste in my mouth and wanting a little bit more to chew on right from the start.
The first actual song is one of the few on this album with an actual title, “Algorhythm.” “Algorhythm” has a bumping, futuristic dance beat that sounds like it should have been in the Black Panther soundtrack. This track almost feels like a nod to the “Because the Internet” days, theme wise, tackling society’s addiction with technology from the first few lines, “What is the motivation? Constant communication.” The groove is heavy and gives this apocalyptic energy by saying how this is our last chance to enjoy life before the computers finally take over. The chorus samples the refrain from Zhane’s 1993 hit “Hey Mr. D.J.” telling “everybody, move your body.” I very much appreciate Gambino’s vocals throughout the verses almost sounding like a computer singing in this one-note low register. Now, if the album continued to explore and experiment with this futuristic demonic-dance sound, I would have been more than content. However, we steer a little bit off the path with the next track, “Time.”
Yet another track with an actual title, “Time” is a very stripped back pop song reminiscent of the 80’s with a chorus-heavy guitar and drum machine that does not mind taking it’s, lack of a better word, time. Standing at over 6-minutes with not much variant to the instrumental along the way besides the addition of some choir vocals towards the latter half of the track, the most interesting facet of the song is the faint Ariana Grande feature. And even her addition to the song seems a bit underutilized because the vocal effects make her sound like she’s singing underwater which is rather ironic when she sings the line, “my feet are falling to the bottom of the ocean.” If you happen to pay attention to the lyrics, there seems to be some existential themes that Gambino songs usually tend to gravitate towards, talking about how 7 billion people are trying to free themselves and how everyone is running out of time. I wouldn’t say this is a bad song, but the more I listen to it, the less interested I get with it. I would say that “Time” is a perfect song to throw on in the background of a small gathering of less than 10 people where most of the group is conversing and the music isn’t the main attraction.
The next track we finally start seeing the time stamp titles which I find interesting because it almost requires the listener to avoid judging a song by its title and demands the music to speak for itself. “12.38” is another lengthy song with a simple beat taking more of a slick, slow-paced Pharrell type instrumental approach. On this track we get Gambino rapping which feels like it’s been ages since we’ve heard. However, he’s rapping in a different flow that reminds me of Playboi Carti or even back to the old-school Sick Boi nasally Gambino vocals with some falsetto runs sprinkled throughout. As far as content, “12.38” seems like a typical, braggadocious, sexy rap song that takes me back to the days when Childish Gambino would always say “swag” before any verse. Although “12.38” is another song pushing the 6-minute mark, I find myself enjoying this track a bit more because of how much bounce and charisma there is, especially with the 21 Savage feature towards the back half.