Heartthrob is deeply wounded and most of it is sad. Its emotional palette is reds and pinks, raw and tender, skin scrubbed too fiercely. But for all its sadness, all its discussion of never-going-to-work relationships, it’s an incredibly hopeful album. Not optimistic, per se but determined, teeth-gritted and snarling. Hope’s necessary for that, even if it is in small and ragged quantity. And hope’s never really stronger than when it’s down to its last shreds.
James plays on her small-sounding voice a lot, which I found increasingly grating the more I listened to the album. It’s partly a personal intolerance for grown women playing twee but also there’s something frustrating about ambitious, wide instrumentals, whose breathy intimacy didn’t need any greater emphasis, being somewhat reduced by a vocal not always interesting enough to accompany them.
Childish Gambino is the not-really-a-side-project rap persona of multiple-threat megatalent Donald Glover. What he’s most famous for depends on your perspective but before the Gambino project took off he won an Emmy for writing on the third season of 30 Rock, launched a stand up career and starred as Troy Barnes in the very deeply brilliant Community. He’s 28.
The slowing down was a screen; a record two years in the making speaks of obsession, if not nervousness and releasing it into the world with high expectations facing a band is daunting. What better modesty panel than turning it into a drone? That keening, stretched noise will forever be associated with the album as much as the contents itself, a pre-emptive remix to guard against what anyone else could say about the “actual” release.
The mixtape format allows artists to experiment without needing to conform to anything a label wants, letting edgier and more exciting stuff get pushed to the fore — Kalenna has no need to control her swearing-as-punctuation habit if there’s no official single with obligatory radio edit, for instance and from the aggressive outset of “Go To Work,” that’s very much the core of Chamber of Diaries.