#22: RICHARD AND LINDA THOMPSON - "I WANT TO SEE THE BRIGHT LIGHTS TONIGHT" (1974)

As you may have gathered by now, folk is not really how I'm musically orientated. In my teens I didn't go much further beyond listening to Nick Drake. Even that was mostly at night, as his seemed to be the only voice that could dampen my brain during a particularly bad bout of insomnia. The rest seemed to be dusty warbling about fairies. Unfair of me, I know. But thanks to this project I'm unfurling, with caution, towards dispelling my prejudices. I have not been all that well recently. You know, in the head. I won't go into details here but what does tend to help is discovery. Finding something unexpected, sticking with it and seeing what it has to tell me. I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight helped.

There aren't too many overtly folk references - or at least, not the totemic concept of folk that loomed in my understanding - to be found here. Some thieving, some yellow hair, some twiddly-sounding pipes and strings but nothing to overwhelm a folkophobic like yours truly. Linda Thompson, nee Peters, has a voice that carries such attitude and strength whilst singing, essentially, about giving up, that the contrast makes for an invigorating and pithy listen. The title track, for example, manages to capture the determination and regret of wanting to get really, really drunk. Wanting things you shouldn't want, knowing that and doing them all the same is something the Thompsons do a good line in. Catchy, too.

What struck me is not only how modern but also nuanced the tone of the whole album is, harking back to England's musical heritage but presenting contemporary concerns. Perhaps it helps that I am uncharacteristically prepared in writing this, so when I began listening on Monday, the mere mention of the same day's claustrophobic effects on opening track When I Cross the Border made me feel immediately in sync with the Thompsons. That they were speaking to me now. That the frustrations they describe and the sensations they evoke are nothing new. Disenfranchisement, apathy and resigned cabin fever all feature. Oddly comforting, the cyclical nature of these things. 

If that's what folk has to offer and I've missed that, that's on me.

#21: Paul Simon – “Graceland” (1986)

Friends, you join me today in the middle of one of the worst bouts of writer’s block that I can ever recall having. It’s not that I’m lacking in opinions – no fear of that – just that, the moment I try and write them down, they evaporate like this raccoon’s candyfloss.

Normally, this ought not matter. I can go away and do other things for a bit: read a book, watch a film, just generally soak up other people’s ideas for a bit. It’ll come back. But this time, I have to tell you what I think, which means I have to think a thing, and then somehow actually hang on to it. This time, I have deadlines.

Paul Simon is not helping.

It has taken me a very long time to get around to Graceland. Emily tells me it’s a long-time favourite of hers – and entirely aside from that, by rights, I ought to really enjoy it. I love me some cross-borders world music, some heavy-duty storytelling. You know that I love genre-mashing. And yet here I am, listening to all of those things, and I don’t know what to tell you, except that I am not really feeling it. I have sat at this screen with my headphones on for a very long time.

Part of it, I’m sure, is the pressure. I may not have listened to much of Graceland before, but Paul Simon’s voice is very easy to stumble upon, and he has associations in my head with people I’ve known that I’ve really wanted to impress, and I will tell you that this much time alone with him is tough. The song I most enjoyed is “Homeless”, which is also the one where we hear the least from Paul Simon. Entirely comprised of vocals, it’s soft and beautiful and I just really like the sound of it. Ladysmith Black Manzabo, the group of singers taking centre-stage, also start off “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes”, and are, I think, the best thing about that song. It’s a good song. They’re pretty great.

What this leads me to believe is that the best thing about Graceland is the South African influence, and the thing I’m least interested in is the Americana. Other songs are a combination of music that is very listenable to when I don’t pay too much attention to the words, and words that… there’s nothing wrong with them and they’re fine, it’s just that I can’t tune in to them right now. I can’t get on the right level to be interested in them. My mind is a blank slate; I have no opinion here. I have been like this for a fortnight now. It has been extremely irritating.

I mean – look at this. I ought to be lapping this up. It even starts with an accordion! This is exactly the sort of thing I usually go for. On my first listen, I was convinced I’d like it better second time around. But I didn’t, not really.

This is not really much of a review this week, so much as it is a bookmark. I promise I’ll come back to Graceland in a few months, when I can look it in the eye. It’s a good album. I can see what there is to like. But for now, I cannot for the life of me grab on to it properly.

#20: ALVIN LUCIER - "I AM SITTING IN A ROOM" (1969)

This might be one of the longest tracks but shortest albums that we will cover on this project. It could also be said to be one of the most 'out there', as it's not musical in the orthodox sense but is still an artist's intention expressed through sound, recorded and distributed. Reading about Alvin Lucier and I am sitting in a room made me think that reviewing it looked set to be more craic than any of Steve Reich's offerings at least. I fancied delving into something genuinely experimental and came out the other side feeling pretty relaxed. Though that may have had more to do with the fact that I listened to it in the bath. I entirely recommend doing this yourself, incidentally, especially if, like me, you're not much of a bath person either, thereby doubling your helping of experimentation.

The experiment is as follows. Lucier reads out a piece of text, no more than four or five sentences, explaining what he is doing and predicting what will happen. So far, so science. What Lucier is doing is recording his voice reading this text, then playing it into the room that he is sitting in, recording that and playing it into the room, repeating this process until the natural frequencies of the room completely obscure Lucier's voice - apart, he notes, from possibly the rhythm of his speech. The version I listened to is, I believe, the original 1969 recording lasting just over 18 minutes, not the higher-fidelity version recorded in 1981 that is about 45 minutes long. Turns out that 18 minutes is plenty of time to layer ambient frequencies over a human voice to obscure it entirely with a not unpleasant drone and feel sufficiently soaked.

Admittedly, listening to I am sitting in a room isn't super experimental for me in the sense that I've listened to albums of this kind before. As I've told anyone generous or socially obliged enough to have bought me a glass of red wine, The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski is one of my favourite pieces of music and, if the bottle is finished and the whisky brought out, what I hope it will sound like in my head when I die. During a particularly dark time, Basinski found tapes of his old compositions that were beginning to disintegrate. He recorded playing them over and over, recording the act of decay and creating something new. Or was it merely the documentation of something falling apart? The slight rise of hiss and grain that eventually blooms like a fireball and devours everything in its path. A sonic Sorites paradox. When did it stop being that thing and become the other? Repetition's effect on the brain - or mine, anyway - is to accept what information has already been offered and truncate it, skip to the end. But I am sitting in a room helps hold your attention after several goes round because they aren't actually repetitions but iterations with incredibly slight differences that build to something almighty.

Not one for the wedding dance floor playlist but if you have a spare 18 minutes and fancy something both meditative and oddly energetic, run yourself a bath and sink deeply into both. 

#19: Tegan and Sara – “Heartthrob” (2013)

Entirely by coincidence, listening to Heartthrob this week comes hot on the heels of two other pieces of storytelling by lesbian creators dealing with sexuality that I’ve seen in the last couple of weeks. I’m talking about Park Chan-Wook’s film The Handmaiden (he’s not a lesbian, obviously, but it’s based on the book Fingersmith by Sarah Waters, so bear with me), and Careful, the autobiographical one-woman show of Scottish musician Horse McDonald.* Aside from that obvious connection, they’re three very different works: Waters’ book is set in Victorian England, transferred to 1930s Korea in The Handmaiden; Horse’s show begins by talking about growing up queer in 1970s Lanark, all the way through to the present; and then, here, we have Heartthrob. Heartthrob is not overtly, content-wise, particularly gay. It’s about teenage crushes, more or less. And it’s the sort of album which, had it existed circa 2004, I would have memorised all the words to within a week, and probably forced Emily to listen to on the bus.

What I feel like all three things have in common, though – and this is both the point of mentioning Fingersmith and Careful, and also probably where I pull things out of thin air a bit – is their fundamental optimism. In Fingersmith, (spoiler!) the gay ladies win. Horse ends up happy, singing at the Stonewall concert at the Albert Hall, touring her story around Scotland to show younger girls and boys that their sexuality is okay, it’s an important and wholesome and just all round good part of them. And Tegan and Sara Quin have breathtakingly well-adjusted whirlwind love affairs, without once – across the whole album! – descending into pantomime obsessiveness.

Partly this is selection bias on my part, but I hope it’s also a trend, because I’m really rather enjoying it.

The thing that struck me the most about Heartthrob is just how very normal it is. Fifteen seconds into the first track, it’s all synth and beat. This is pop. This is a Top-40 pop album, quite clearly aimed at a younger audience. It’s the type of music I might have listened to before a university night out, with four other girls putting on mascara in four different mirrors. Hell, I might still do that, given the opportunity. This is the sort of music you listen to in the car, with people, because everyone will pretty much get on with it. The Quin sisters can write an earworm, oh my they can.

And yet, for all that, this doesn’t feel like lowest common denominator music. It doesn’t feel like platitudes. The tracks dealing with regret and loneliness don’t feel like wallowing, and they don’t feel unsurmountable. This is, overall, if not a happy album then a mostly contented one. It feels like it knows what it’s like to be young, and still take things seriously. “Drives Me Wild” describes a crush convincingly without cheese or creepiness, for which I would like to award One (1) Gold Star. “I’m Not Your Hero” sounds like it’s meant to be sung in a concert hall by eight hundred people who feel like they have a personal connection with it – and without the shadow of a doubt, I would be one of those people, and being in that hall would make me cry. And my personal favourite, “Now I’m All Messed Up” gets the drama and messiness of heartbreak without going off the deep end. The whole thing is just exemplary. For all that this particular brand of poppiness doesn’t usually get me that excited, in this case I can’t really fault it.

 

*Complete aside here, but I discovered Horse’s work through blagging my way along to review her show – and she’s a revelation. Extremely listenable-to voice, very personable lady. Definitely worth a listen, if you’re looking for something a bit soulful.

#18: DJ Shadow - "Endtroducing....." (1996)

Sometimes you really can judge an album by its cover. At least, with DJ Shadow's Endtroducing..... anyway. The cover is an entirely accurate synaesthetic translation of sonic to visual. Two men on either side of a record store aisle in grainy neutrals. The left-hand man cuts a solid figure with his sensible mac and stack of vinyl sleeves under one arm whilst the right-hand man's face is caught in a blur, as if he can barely comprehend the choice on the racks in front of him. A still image that suggests a glut of movement without capturing the action itself, a frenzy condensed into a single frame. 

Listening to DJ Shadow's debut album is the sensation of being wired-but-tired. Though I was only six when it was released - yeah that's right, I'm the millennial she told you not to worry about - I can vividly picture the countless afterparties that this would have accompanied. Between throwing out time and feeling able to stomach food again, Endtroducing..... is pitch perfect. From its title - five periods to an ellipsis and yes, we all see what you did there - to the smoky, jerky rhythms, it's the sound of every good night finishing up and every too-bright dawn descending on your head.

Renowned for being stitched together entirely of samples from the considerable record collection of DJ Shadow (real name Joshua Davis), rumoured to be 60,000 and counting, Endtroducing..... is an unsurprisingly mixed bag but has its own distinctive wah-wah tone that feathers the landing of each track. This isn't to say that everything sounds the same, quite the opposite. Hooks that make you want to wave your arms like a motorway garage inflatable mascot come courtesy of Organ Donor, whilst haunting female vocals and a stuttering bass line that's reminiscent of Portishead are provided by Midnight In a Perfect World and Transmission 3 rounds off itself and the album with the obligatory Twin Peaks sample.

Going back to the title, there is a dash of showing off - "It's like, the end is in the beginning, yeah?" - that is present in the track titles and content. For example, Why Hip-Hop Is Shit In '96 is an instrumental that ends simply with, "the money" whilst What Does Your Soul Look Like (Pt. 4) comes before What Does Your Soul Look Like (Pt. 1) though the three "Transmissions" are in numerical order. These are cheeky enough to just about be endearing but, overall, Endtroducing..... lacks the deeper insight and political statement that the best hip-hop can demonstrate. This doesn't make it any less of an interesting journey through a technical marvel of a soundscape but I couldn't help but be left feeling a little hollow. DJ Shadow combines voices to create a staggering choir. There's so much noise - but I still have no idea what he's saying.

 

#17: Marianne Faithfull – "Broken English" (1979)

There are two things I know about Marianne Faithfull, and they are Mick Jagger and heroin. I mean, that’s not great general knowledge, right there. Mick Jagger is far enough from my sphere of interest. So far, I’ve rather done Marianne Faithfull a disservice.

Based on those two facts, before listening to Broken English I was also aware of a third thing: that this album was recorded at a very turbulent time in her life and is therefore in Heroin Voice. Heroin Voice involves not being able to hit half the notes. I’ve not actually got any experience of heroin. To be honest, I’m not very good with needles.

Broken English is the shortest album I’ve reviewed for Mookbarks so far, with eight tracks clocking in at just 37 minutes, or one very moderate double-sided LP. The biggest impression I get from Broken English is that it definitely has an A side and a B side, and of the two, the A is vastly more confessional and the B is vastly more good.

What do you do if you’re much better known for someone you’ve slept with a decade ago, and the fact that you’ve gone through some very dark times since then? I don’t know what the most expected answer would have been in 1979, but these days it’s a no-brainer: you aggressively curate your image, or you have someone else curate it for you. And that’s what the first half of Broken English sounds like – it sounds very biographical. I just know that “Brain Drain”, that “Guilt”, sound like they’re being presented to build a narrative. They’re setting a record straight. I genuinely don’t know how truthful they are. I like them – “Brain Drain” in particular has a jazz sort of looseness to it that is acceptably easy listening. But “Guilt” sounds… well, it’s either very confessional, or it’s a very blatant ploy. And either way, even as I guess I like it, I don’t trust it. It feels sly, is how it feels.

Maybe it’s just the sort of thing I can imagine being heavily engineered these days.

The second half changes direction completely. Luckily it’s very much for the better – not least because there are a lot more third person narratives going on here. The plot of “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” reminds me of a staple of my teenagerdom, Kirsty MacColl’s “Miss Otis Regrets”. For a while, I thought it was that flash of familiarity that made me finally start to relax into Broken English – but no, I genuinely think this is just where it gets properly good. “Lucy Jordan” is a departure from the navel gazing of the previous seventeen minutes. The disappointing thing is that Faithfull’s voice has a similar sort of tone to MacColl’s, it’s just… weaker. This is where it becomes clear that – at least on this album – Faithfull can’t really belt. Heroin voice. Oh, Marianne.

Likewise, “What’s the Hurry?” is great fun, and it’s well arranged – but it needs the voice of someone like Debbie Harry. It needs a bit of vocal oomph to it. “What’s the Hurry?” with a stronger vocalist would be right up there with the sort of thing you want to listen to on a clear stretch of motorway. I’m a bit wistful for those heights it could have reached.

The cover of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero” is a particular highlight, partly because it feels refreshingly straightforward. There are heavy shades here of Pink Floyd’s The Wall, both in terms of sentiment and of atmosphere – The Wall came out a few months before Broken English, and I don’t believe that can possibly be a coincidence. Incidentally, this is a bloody good cover. It’s got a nice bit of classic Lennon seethe to it – and actually, Faithfull’s voice works rather well here. Is that a compliment? I don’t even know. All I know is that it’s so far removed from the first half of the album. Honestly, this B side blows the A side out of the water.

And then finally, after I’ve spent a solid three tracks feeling vaguely sorry for Marianne Faithfull, she finishes off with “Why’d Ya Do It”, and it’s by far both the foulest-mouthed and the most characterful thing on this whole damn album. This is bold, dramatic, unapologetic. It’s also the best use of Faithfull’s voice. It sounds like she’s having fun – there’s even a bit of that belting I wanted. At any rate, it makes “Guilt” look like a wet fish. End on a high point, I guess, but why’d she leave this vicious little gem til last?

I don’t know what I think, you know. Half of this album is special. Half of it you can keep. All of it makes me a bit sad for what might otherwise have been. If you find anyone who’s done a good cover of “What’s the Hurry?”, you just point that thing in my direction.

#16: Van Morrison - "Astral Weeks" (1968)

Reviewing is a funny business. Films, books and theatre were very much my wheelhouse. Probably because I had one or more of training, experience and ambition in each of them. I understood what was involved, the pitfalls, the effort, the triumph. Music didn't feature. Then Fiona came to me with the premise behind 52A/52W. It scared me, in the good way. 

This experiment isn't just about getting more familiar with music but also training my critiques in an area I don't feel that I have much standing in. Music is something I've always enjoyed because, y'know, I'm human. I've been in awe of the technically adept and hugely talented musicians that have crossed my path but understanding music with any skill, that's beyond me. Though I did use to play a mean ocarina back in primary school. That tells you a lot about me - and my primary school. I've dabbled with singing lessons on and off but mainly as an aid to overall vocal technique, not for any serious performing or professional means.

What I'm getting at here is that music is a powerful beast that I've played with and admired from afar but have never tamed or claimed as a house pet. Thinking and talking about music is still very new to me but I think that I can just about apply my own principles of criticism and get by - though you are more than free to disagree, Dear Reader, and tell me why on our various contactables.

I am meandering about the essence of criticism because this is a very personal response to Van Morrison's Astral Weeks. That's what struck me about it, that I wasn't expecting it to get under my skin how it has but that's where we are. I'm going to consider it objectively, obviously, and place it in the wider canon as best I can, which many others have done pretty well because it's kind of a big deal as an album don't you know... (I vaguely did but didn't know that Van Morrison was Northern Irish until last week so there you go) But, in order to be honest and transparent, leaving out the impact it has had on me would not be doing good criticism, in my book. So if you don't mind reading from my book too, subjective disclaimer duly delivered, shall we?

Back in 2012, Rolling Stone put Astral Weeks at no. 19 in their 500-strong list of the Greatest Albums of All Time. No mean feat, there, particularly for a debut solo album conceived and recorded in the wake of a nasty legal battle between Morrison and the widow of the head of his former record label, Bert Berns. Berns and Morrison were disputing Morrison's musical future - Berns thought he should continue in the pop vein whereas Morrison wanted to try new musical territory - and Berns died of a heart attack, having a previously undiscovered congenital heart defect. His widow, Ilene, blamed Morrison. Astral Weeks is definitely a massive departure from Morrison's previous work, perhaps best characterised by Brown Eyed Girl, and I can't help but wonder if there's a strange grief and working through to acceptance at play here, that Morrison did eventually get to try a new sound but in the aftermath of significant stress and tragedy.

Not that I have been through anything like Morrison or the Berns recently but I've had a few knocks to my confidence, alongside some health issues in my immediate family, the bruises of which I'm nursing. I won't go into specific detail but suffice to say I'm doing a lot of facing down my ego. So it's probably surprising only to me that an album entitled Astral Weeks, which references the idea that there's a spiritual body separate from the physical as well as rebirth, during Easter, has been quite so effecting. Morrison himself has been modest about the album's success and lasting legacy, but its inception and recording sounds like a mysterious, fluid process. Divination, even. The musicians in the band have been reported as saying that they had no idea what Morrison wanted from them, as he didn't tell them at any point. When discussing the lyrics, Morrison says that he didn't really understood what they meant. They came from a stream-of-consciousness rather than any specific life experience. Morrison was guided more by representing certain feelings instead of the facts. Not about anyone in particular but still about specific human experiences, he created something that everyone had a window into.

Well, that's how it made me feel. Like most days, I began with a to-do list. My confidence and motivation has been ebbing rather than flowing of late, which has got in the way of my efficiency with doing things, which gets at my confidence... So there's a spiral. It's slow just now but I've been on it before and I know the consequences of leaving it for too long. After having just recovered from a bad virus that left me bedridden for a week, I woke up with a hefty cold. I am not the best patient. Unable to do much, I fret about not doing much, which impedes relaxing and just getting better. This was one of those days were I couldn't concentrate on anything, couldn't show for much, feeling like I'd let people down having to cancel and postpone... Then, I thought, well. Better crack on with listening to this week's album, seeming as I have to write about it and all. I sat down, pressed play - and something about those first few chords, I felt the shackles and tangles of my mind and the day disappear. I was streamlined.

But how does it sound? Objectively speaking, in an attempt to understand Astral Weeks as part of the wider musical canon, there's a lot going on. There's folk elements, jazz, classical, rock - but really, it sounds like an entirely organic string of sound. It's hard to separate the strands because, well, I didn't want to. It's wholesome and pure, not in an ascetic sense, but in a round, deep, ripeness. Though I'm not a synaesthete, when I closed my eyes - I genuinely listened to most of this album with my eyes closed, you guys - I could see colours, shapes, movement. Like any abstract art worth its salt - maybe more than a pinch - Astral Weeks has direction and form that guide you through something unfamiliar but it's all the more fresh for being strange. It made me think of standing in front of a huge Rothko or Pollock painting, and of what was said about the surrealist H. R. Giger's work on the eponymous Alien, that it looked like something from a dream, something rising to the surface from your unconscious mind. Morrison's voice is bold and expressive but not always crystal clear. It's another instrument among many. The lyrics are there if you listen out for them but Morrison seems to be more interested in cohesion, producing a certain sound from several, rather than projecting his own singing voice. His own artistic voice, well that's very much there. The meaning of the words are there but they're not the sole source of meaning. They're poetic and prayer-like in places. Repetition is used within each track but not to the point of wearing what's there thin to the point of nihilism. 

Listening to the whole album, start to finish in one sitting, with my eyes closed - it made me feel better. I'm streaming it through Spotify but I wonder what it'd be like to have it on vinyl. Eight tracks in total, four on each side. Part One: In the Beginning. Part Two: Afterwards. Beginning of what? After what? It doesn't matter. The event isn't the point. The anticipation of it, then the acceptance of whatever it is, whatever it has been - those are key. There isn't a neat resolution because Astral Weeks doesn't follow a specifically conventional narrative but it does have a simple spine of passing through time, indulging in nostalgia - and being lost. 

I have been feeling a bit lost recently. I don't think I'm the only one. Morrison himself said of the album that, "You have to understand something,...A lot of this ... there was no choice. I was totally broke. So I didn't have time to sit around pondering or thinking all this through. It was just done on a basic pure survival level. I did what I had to do." This basic purity comes through, not in a sense of desperation but in someone doing what they want to do and what they have to do in one fell swoop. Listening to this album gave me a vantage point, an emotional osmosis where my feelings overflowed into a sound that recognised and represented those feelings, reducing mine to bearable levels. Maybe you won't feel the same. But I hope there's something out there like this for you. 

This isn't the first album I've had this reaction to, as there have been different ones for different stages in my life, including one that I won't mention because our mega spreadsheet of planning-ahead glory informs me that Fiona is going to review it, but these kinds of albums genuinely keep me sane. The final track, Slim Slow Slider, is a brief one. It sounds like the thought process of fretting about how to look after someone you know, who you think is in trouble. It finishes with Morrison singing, "Every time I see you / I just don't know what to do", then slapping his guitar. And then it's just done. Ambiguous and unsolved. 

The entry for Astral Weeks on the Rolling Stone website concludes that "[Morrison] was going deep inside himself, without a net or fear." That is a kind of bravery I aspire to, in creative ventures and in life. If I manage to come up with anything close to Astral Weeks then I'll be astounded. If I don't, so be it - but at least I'll have done what I have to do.

Sometimes that's enough.

#15: Childish Gambino - "Awaken, My Love!" (2016)

We here at Mookbarks HQ have been known to be vaguely organised, which means that there is a 52A/52W spreadsheet with the next few weeks' worth of choices on it. When Awaken, My Love! appeared on this spreadsheet, some time in February, it turned out that Emily had already heard it. I know this, because she annotated it, "I LOVE this album!"

On first listen, it sounded like chillout music, until two minutes into the first song ("Me and Your Mama"), when my eyebrows shot towards my hairline. Emily's not wrong. It's pretty bloody good.

Childish Gambino is the stage name of Donald Glover, who I know from Community and from a hundred and one mental notes that I really need to get around to watching Parks and Recreation. According to the internet, the name "Childish Gambino" came from a Wu-Tang Clan name generator, and between those things, you can get a pretty good idea of the creative vision at work here: a writer with great comic timing, and a finger on the popular-cultural pulse. It's very stylistically eclectic – not just between tracks (which is refreshing in itself for me after the Nirvana debacle a fortnight ago) but also from one end of a song to another.

That could go one of two ways: irritatingly scattergun, or the kind of person you want to sit next to at a party. Fortunately, Awaken, My Love! errs very much towards the latter, ranging from the eminently optimistic, nod-to-gospel "Have Some Love" to the more narrative, bluesy "Baby Boy". There are strong notes of funk to be found, of R&B, and shades of what might even be prog-rock. If anything, the second single, "Redbone" (the first one was "Me and Your Mama") is one of the least interesting songs on the album – but let me reiterate, there is a High Damn Bar being set here.

One thing I've spent probably a little too long pondering is the album title - the words "Awaken, My Love" don't actually appear out loud. Given that two song titles refer to "your mama", the most logical explanation seems to me that it's addressed to Glover's own child, who was born the year it came out. If so, that would make this a collection of stories with a very personal bent to them - if not exactly in terms of fact, then of the emotions or fragments of memory they evoke, saved for posterity and to tell a child what the world is like. If AML! is trying to describe a worldview, then, that makes me even more inclined to want to sit next to Glover at a party. Apart from being fundamentally an optimist with an eye for a good detail, I bet he's got an anecdote or two to tell.

Plus, on a personal level, I'm a big fan of straight-faced songs about weird stuff. So here you go, my favourite is "Zombies":

I gather this is a bit of a departure from Glover's previous music, which tended much more towards rap, and was fairly heavily focused towards live performance. I can see how rap might suit him – apart from working best when he's fast talking and fitting many elements into a small space, one minor problem with AML! is that his singing voice is sometimes a bit over-autotuned. Bits of the final song, "Stand Tall" gives the distinct impression of being "the one at the end where all the guests come up", which feels like it might work really well live, where there’s the opportunity to attach some visual spectacle to it. In purely audio form, though, it’s the track where there most feels like something is missing.

But, you know, I don't care. I had a great time. Awaken, My Love! is well conceived, like a tasting menu of things I like and might not otherwise have tried. It feels like a lot of thought has gone into it. I appreciate that. By and large, it's a delight to listen to.