There is nothing subtle about the album's style. Gambino and longtime collaborator Ludwig Göransson fully immerse themselves in the past, summoning memories of Prince, Isaac Hayes, Pink Floyd and Parliament with such ease that you'll pause several times to make sure you're not listening to a remake.
These blatant imitations would be comical if Gambino's vocals weren't so surprisingly strong. He's seasoned previous albums with a timid melody or two, but he fully commits to using his voice as an instrument on Awaken. He harnesses the anguish of a tortured lover on "Me and Your Mama," melts hearts with his sturdy vibrato on "Zombies" and hits a panty-snatching falsetto on "Terrified" that signals his departure from the "good for a rapper" league of vocalists.
"Boogieman" is equal parts funky and political, while "Redbone" is a smooth and sexy tale of a relationship gone awry. Almost every song on Awaken is a soulful, vintage delight — with the exception of "California," an infuriating interruption to an otherwise cohesive project. The chorus of pan flutes are enough to raise your blood pressure. Kill it with fire.
Despite this galling blunder, Gambino knocks Awaken out of the park. Hopefully, this side of him is here to stay. (Glassnote)