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New Music Reviews: Childish Gambino, Porridge Radio, and Baxter Dury

Normally my method for finding new music is to read about it, add it to a playlist, and listen to it over until I enjoy it. Normally this works well – I enjoyed all of the 51 albums that I reviewed from 2019. 2020 is shaping up to be a strong year overall, but some of my album choices haven’t been so great.

I’ve been using the critical aggregation list at http://www.acclaimedmusic.net/forums/viewtopic.php?f=2&t=8607 as a resource this year, and it turns out it’s not a great source of album recommendations for me. All three of these albums were in the top echelons of the 31 March update – Porridge Radio at #1, Baxter Dury at #5, and Childish Gambino at #11 – but they’re the three weakest albums on my 2020 playlist so far. I’ve put them order from favourite to least favourite – the Gambino record is fun and enjoyable, while the other two had at least one really good track.

Childish Gambino

3.15.20

Donald Glover has established himself as a multi-talented superstar, topping the singles charts in 2018 with the politically charged ‘This Is America’, playing Lando Calrissian in Star Wars’ Solo, and voicing Simba in The Lion King remake. He started his career as a writer for 30 Rock before playing Troy Barnes on Community. He launched his music career as Childish Gambino, a title he created on a Wu Tang name generator website.

3.15.20 is Gambino’s fourth studio album. Given his celebrity status, coupled with a long running length and lazy song titles (most songs are named after the timestamp they start at) it’s easy to perceive 3.15.20 as an indulgent hobby record. But despite a bit of bloat, it’s often enjoyable. Gambino’s clearly a fan of Prince and Marvin Gaye, and he’s able to produce an impressive falsetto. 3.15.20 finds a comfortable middle ground between classic soul and a modern sheen, and while it doesn’t reward close listening, but it makes for fun background music.

There’s upbeat pop on ’35:31′, where Gambino’s whoops are propulsive and fun. Ariana Grande adds backing vocals to ‘Time’, and it’s one of the record’s highlights with a soaring chorus. The closing ’53:49 (There Is Love In Every Moment)’ is suitably climactic, showing Gambino’s immense talents as a vocalist – he delivers energetically rapped verses and a beautifully shredded falsetto in the chorus.

It’s a little loose and meandering to be a great record, but 3.15.20 is a fun listen.


Porridge Radio

Every Bad

Porridge Radio are an indie guitar band from Brighton. Every Bad is their fifth album, but their first for a high profile label (Secretly Canadian) and their first since 2016. 1990s revival is popular among rock bands at the moment, and Porridge Radio seems to specifically takes its cues from early PJ Harvey – their music shares the same abrasive edge. Front-woman Dana Margolin has a distinctive haughty and austere voice, which suits the approach.

With little in the way of melodic interest or extroverted instrumentation, Every Bad lives or dies on the strength of Margolin’s lyrics and vocals. It’s a mixed bag – for every incisive observation, there’s a painfully obvious line like “Take me back to bed/And shoot me in the head” on ‘Pop Song’. The problem is worsened when Margolin deals in spoken word.

Despite my misgivings, there’s at least one excellent song – ‘Don’t Ask Me Twice’ unexpectedly launches into a genuinely memorable and unexpected melodic chorus. The drumming is fantastic, giving the song a heavy industrial feel in the introduction, before dropping out for the first verse. Margolin’s lyrics also shine ends with the tagline “Oh, I don’t know what I want/But I know what I want.”

The abrasive indie-rock of Every Bad isn’t tuneful enough for my liking, but there’s potential for more enjoyable records from Porridge Radio in the future.


Baxter Dury

The Night Chancers

Even if you don’t recognise the name, if you’re a fan of music from previous generations you might recognise Baxter Dury appearing with his father Ian on the cover of New Boots and Panties!!

Following in a parent’s footsteps has often been a tough road in pop music. Baxter Dury’s never matched his father’s critical acclaim, but at the age of 48 he’s been enjoying some attention for his recent albums. As on 2017’s Prince of Tears, Dury presents his spoken monologues backed with smooth synths and female backing vocals. It’s like a cockney Serge Gainsbourg, and a full album of this approach is wearying.

Dury starts out on the wrong foot with me – ‘I’m Not Your Dog’ opens the record with the charmless line “I’m not your f***ing friend”, before using the female vocals for a French chorus.

Dury’s lugubrious hipster shtick is effective on the title track, with its dramatic synth string flourishes – it helps that Dury’s vocal delivery is less amelodic as he talk-sings about being left with the crumbs of his spare thoughts.

Maybe it’s just too specifically English for me to enjoy, but no matter how animated his oratory I find it difficult to enjoy more than a couple of Baxter Dury tracks at a time.

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