In 2013, Donald Glover talked about getting pushback from his label over the early December release date of Because the Internet because early December is a hinterland of Christmas music and compilation albums. But Glover felt so strongly about putting the album out during the stillness of the holiday season that he would’ve done it on his own if the label refused. “I feel like that’s the only time people would be able to listen to it,” he said. “December is the perfect time. Albums made a really big impact on me when I was alone and everything was quiet, and I know that’s when students go home, that’s when everything is closed, so it’s a good time to just listen to something and be yourself.”
At this point, many restaurants and retail businesses have closed in response to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, and a complete lockdown could be coming soon. Aside from cycling through the various apps on your phone and burning through your rations with blank disregard, chances are there is absolutely nothing for you to do right now except listen to things and be yourself. Boredom is fertile land from whence all pet interests grow: You could learn a trade. Pick up contour line drawing. Download TikTok. Write fucking King Lear or discover calculus, apparently. Or maybe you could just chill out and find a new favorite song. Early Sunday morning, probably with the public’s increased free time in mind, Glover released a new album through a website called Donald Glover Presents. It didn’t appear on streaming services. It didn’t have a title. It didn’t have a tracklist. The only way to consume the album was via that website, for a few hours, on a continuous loop—it wasn’t an experience that could be downloaded and moved anywhere else, or digested in parts. It was a method of music delivery that was uniquely resistant to knee-jerk reviews from music writers, in other words.
But here’s this music writer’s knee-jerk review: It’s good. The album begins with heavy breathing and a quickening heartbeat, as if Glover ran directly out of the “This Is America” video and into his next body of work. (“This Is America” is not on it.) There are 12 songs in all, including “Feels Like Summer,” and two songs he’s been performing at live shows for more than a year now: “Warlords” and “Algorythm.” Ariana Grande, SZA, 21 Savage, and one of Glover’s sons all make appearances. Glover reminds me, at different points, of Smokey Robinson, Yeezus-era Kanye, and Freddie Mercury. He’s still concerned with internet culture, and the moments of humility we should, but don’t experience—on “Why Go to the Party,” which sounds like an A Night at the Opera B-side, Glover, full of pre-apocalyptic ennui, sings “Where are those subtle men with the decency to admit they were wrong?” But more so than the writing or Glover’s soft, despondent cooing (or the T-800 Fela Kuti voice he uses on “Algorythm”) the production he’s working with has taken a leap since 2016’s Awaken My Love. “Vibrate” in particular—that’s the one with SZA and 21 Savage—has a bounce that hits you in the shoulders and neck and, as an aside, 21’s deadpan delivery really shines on it. “I’m on a private jet eatin’ Popeyes chicken / I be flexin’ like I’m eatin’ Popeye’s spinach.”
I guess I should say that it was good while it lasted. By Sunday evening, the site hosting the album had gone quiet, which leaves us with a few questions—did Glover go rogue? Did the label tamp down his act of generosity in this time of soul-crushing boredom? Was this some sort of convoluted treatise on the beauty of impermanence? Will we actually be getting this album officially? If so, when?