Nearly 6 months after its initial digital release, Childish Gambino’s newest and most ambitious full length effort to date, Awaken, My Love!, has finally dropped on vinyl. For full discussion on the music, I’ll be directing you to episode 149 of The Modern Vinyl Podcast.
One minor music note. Upon the conclusion of “Stand Tall” on Side D, you’re met with a vinyl-exclusive bonus track of “The Night Me and Your Mama Met.” This version features previously unheard vocals and is taken from the live PHAROS performance at Joshua Tree. It’s an interesting “what if,” returning to this structure for a final message, but I see why the reprise would be cut due to repetitiveness. You can find full lyrics of this performance, here.
Note: The album is cut at 45 RPM, across 2 discs.
There’s minor issues here, but you won’t find a better version of the album. I encountered a locked groove at the beginning of “Riot,” along with occasional pops in “Me and Your Mama,” surface noise at the conclusion of Side A, and surface noise in between “The Night Me and Your Mama Met” and “Stand Tall.” I’d also turn down your bass a tad before listening, as when left at standard it can overpower the vocals and guitar (particularly in “Me and Your Mama”) at times.
To the good. The organ and synth contributions in “Have Some Love” get renewed life here, especially in the back half. You can really start to pick apart what exactly Glover is doing with his vocals from song-to-song, as well, especially in tracks like “Boogieman” and “Zombies.” The clarity of the guitar work and the ending of “Redbone” makes for a standout moment, the highs and lows really balancing each other out. And in “Stand Tall,” there’s real life to that bass, while the ending, with its autotuned vocals and variety of woodwind instruments, never gets jumbled. Everything finds its place within the mix.
The 2xLP set is housed in a sturdy box, featuring a glow-in-the-dark, embossed cover (and yes, it really does glow). The exclusive booklet is, in a word, cheap, with what seems like alternate cover shots of that same cover model. Meanwhile, the songs are only given credits, no lyrics, but you’ll find lyrics to “Stand Tall” on the back of the pale yellow obi-strip (a nice touch). Meanwhile, the records are housed in flimsy, printed inner-sleeves, which were pretty beat up from regular handling.
But the set is called the “Limited Edition Virtual Reality Vinyl” package, so let’s dive into that. The cardboard headset comes packaged within the box (it’s really the only reason, space wise, this needs to be a box-set), and you’re then provided with a code to open up the PHAROS.EARTH app. After folding together the headset — only possible due to the unboxing videos and instructions of others, so thank you — I finally got the iPhone in position (it wouldn’t actually fit in the box like it’s supposed to) and was able to watch the four songs included. Two were live performances, while two were songs placed within virtual environments (which seems to replicate the Joshua Tree show). Given it was my first true VR experience, it was pretty interesting spinning around in my office chair, getting to scan the audience and back to the stage. It was quite the odd sensation when someone in that front row would stare at the camera, that fleeting connection nearly plunging you into some sort of uncanny valley. It was a surprisingly short experience given I’d expected the whole show and album performed, and I’d be excited to see other artists sell this type of experience for one-off type of shows (especially given Gambino’s lack of touring on this album). For the record, the songs performed were “Me and Your Mama” and “Zombies” on stage, the latter with an epic Ludwig Goransson guitar solo, along with “California” and “Stand Tall” with the constructed environments.
An awkward fit for the phone/headphones in the box (taking the phone out of its case was a necessity for any fit whatsoever), along with having to close one eye to get a non-distorted visual are the primary complaints. VR is of course an extraordinary development; the physical apparatus provided just isn’t quite up to the task. Images below are screenshots from the phone presentation; they unite into one image when wearing the headset.
The virtual reality edition of “Awaken, My Love!” is available on vinyl at Amazon.