Childish Gambino – Awaken, My Love! : Vinyl Boxset Review. Is it worth it?

After 6 months, £70 and a whole lot of patience, Gambino’s latest project, Awaken, My Love! has finally arrived on gorgeous double heavy weight vinyl, complete with a VR headset, full colour booklet and download code. So, was it all worth it?

Words: Darius Azadeh

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Childish Gambino fan or not, there’s something for everyone in this latest album from multi-talented man-of-the-moment Donald Glover. Ditching the rap and hip-hop previously explored over the course of his previous albums, Glover returned under the same moniker in late 2016 with a new album so far off the beaten track of his career that it just went further to prove that the man can literally do anything. While not perfect, Awaken, My Love! demonstrated not only his extensive musical knowledge, but also prowess. It was a smooth, silky powerful funk/soul record that excelled past it’s peers with sheer inventiveness and influential adaptation that made a vinyl release seem inevitable, especially with it’s 70’s soul music vibe. So, when it was revealed that it would only be released as a limited edition, £70 boxset, which (expectedly) included two 180gram heavyweight records and (unexpectedly) included a Virtual Reality headset, anticipation and confusion grew and grew.

To think that his previous album, Because The Internet, came complete with a 72 page script, this level of ambition and exclusivity should really come as no surprise. And it’s very welcome. What other artist comes to mind when thinking of album releases that come packed with this sort of thing? Not many. As rumours of a shipping date and VR content poured through over the course of the next few months proceeding the pre-order of the record, excitement was reaching fever pitch. After a number of push-backs, a final release date was secured in April, and the end of the painfully confusing long wait was in sight.

Eventually, mid-June comes around. It is now just over 6 months since the initial pre-order of the record, and it’s finally awaiting collection at the post office. Once it’s home and unwrapped, a quick moment needs to be taken to simply appreciate that it’s physically here. After enough courage is mustered to open it, things are looking very promising. The full colour record sleeves present what are assumed to be unused album artwork, which are beautifully photographed images of various models in headdresses, similar to the stunning final album artwork. Next is the booklet, which is more of the same, yet more familial this time, with the headdress and model from the front cover in different poses. Though not sounding like much, it is actually rather beautiful, and thankfully as big as the records them selves, and not shrunk down to a flimsy booklet half the size. Finally, we get to the base of the box, which houses the VR headset. While lavishly decorated in what seem to be the tribal paint patterns akin to Gambino’s style during his live ‘Pharos’ performances. While looking great, however, it is still simply a piece of cardboard.

First off, the records play beautifully. The sound quality is really top notch, playing the record’s smoothest and grooviest tunes with a lovely, warm, subtle grain, perfect for this album’s sound. You can really feel the weight of the wax during slower grooves such as Redbone, adding to the timelessness and authenticity of the album. And if that wasn’t enough, a surprise bonus track, a live performance of the instrumental track The Night Me and Your Mama Met, is included right at the end. The VR headset, however, is a slightly different story.

Before use, the free ‘Pharos’ smartphone app is required to be downloaded, and then it’s off to the races. After slotting your phone into the opening, the content kicks off with a visceral 360 degree live performance of the album’s opening track, Me and Your Mama, from Gambino’s ‘Pharos’ showcase last year. While terrifically exciting, and offering a new dimension to the recorded track, the low frame rate and video quality does dampen the show. After awhile, the VR element slowly evolves into a gimmick that wears off.

The subsequent videos to accompany the rest of the tracks get even more confusing. As well the as live performance audio, the accompanying videos feature lavishly decorated alien landscapes, with purple hills and wild green creatures. Oh, and of course a Star Wars-esque holographic projection of Glover himself performing amidst the extraterrestrial environment. It’s at this point in the experience when one will likely step back and say, “Okay… what?”. It can only be assumed that this is Gambino’s idea of what should be envisioned when listening to the tracks. While an interesting and innovative thought, it doesn’t, and can’t, hit the mark, as this is too subjective. As well as the underwhelming video quality, this most ambitious element of the release, while thankfully ambitious, isn’t something that warrants much repeat usage.

So, overall, is it worth it? Hell yes. It’s a beautifully designed boxset, with embossed features, brilliant artwork and records of absolutely top sound quality. Worth the money and wait? Well, if the VR feature is indeed what jacked up the price tag, then no. It was probably the most anticipated element of the release during the 6 month wait, and for it to be revealed as a cardboard gimmick is rather disappointing. Nevertheless, the level of ambition that sparked it’s inclusion in the set is a very welcome breath of fresh air to the industry, and hopefully an inspiration to artists everywhere. At the end of the day, it could’ve been an overpriced, flimsy single record release with nothing else to it, but it wasn’t. It was, yet again, proof that Glover really is one of the most forward thinking artists working today. It’s undeniable that whatever he does next, in whatever field, is sure to be unlike anything else.

 

The Numbers:

Record – 10/10

Booklet – 8/10

VR – 5/10

 

Check out the VR video for Me And Your Mama here –

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Rising stars Row Z get set for ‘Green Penny’ EP

Much anticipated 3 track release out through GHOSTNOTE Records, June 9th

Tapping into the recent boom in British funk music, Row Z are a Liverpool based five piece with a taste for moody blues. Their new EP, ‘Green Penny’  is due June 9th and is currently one of the most eagerly awaited releases in the world of new UK Blues.

Led by the incredible Richard James Smith, the band specialise in sprawling jazz spiced funk tracks, full of intricate rhythms and virtuoso musical performance throughout.

For a taste, check out the EP’s lead single/title track ‘Green Penny’ – complete with a raw sound reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXvo0OdIslY

Row Z first made a splash with Ska/Jazz single ‘Stalemate’ in 2006, released to universally good reviews and – improbably – a huge chart success in Germany.

Now though, this new material sees them hitting new heights with great crossover potential, pulling together their roots sensibilities with sound that is instantly accessible. It’s the kind of music that can (and has) turned small, impromptu gigs into full on dance parties, bringing in elements from breakdance to swing.

It comes as no surprise to learn that Richard James Smith comes with something of a reputation. After receiving Masterclasses from Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits), Joan Armatrading, Steve Morse (Deep Purple), Yngwie Malmsteen and José Feliciano, Richard had the honour of being awarded his degree by Sir Paul McCartney; but this was just the start.

Since then, Richard has featured as a finalist in ‘Young Jazz Musician of the Year’ and ‘Acoustic Guitarist of the Year’, and featured on Oscar winner Jared Leto’s 30 Seconds To Mars track ‘Up in the Air’ (Remix). Fans include Jools Holland, who swapped numbers with Guitarist Richard after a performance for ITV.

However, Smith isn’t the only band member with pedigree.  Drummer Jay Irving has toured with Tony Christie/The Christians,  while Keyboard player John has toured with the Seahorses, John Squire, DJ Vadim, Cinematic Orchestra,  and played and composed for Lily Allen hits ‘Smile’ and LDN. He also played on the acclaimed debut album from Corinne Bailey Rae.

Meanwhile, Alto sax player Alex Harris has performed for Richard Branson, Prince Charles and Kate Middleton, as well as numerous television shows, radio shows and short films including BBC’s Call the Midwife and BBC Radio London. He has also performed with Kevin Spacey at Ronnie Scott’s, London.

Row Z’s killer combination of skill and experience is what makes their music so brilliant and their EP so highly sought after. And when The Beatles’ first manager Allan Williams asks to book your band for parties after watching them at the Cavern Club, it’s clear you’re doing something right.

You can listen to the other two tracks from the ‘Green Penny’ EP here –

Arthur: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4HibIVgB7Ow

Blues for Buddah: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I6luu4Fon4k

 

Links:

Row Z Official website: http://www.rowz.net

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/rowzmusic

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Row_Z_Music

YouTube:  http://www.youtube.com/user/rowzmusic1

Reverbnation:  http://www.reverbnation.com/rowz

Soundcloud:  https://soundcloud.com/rowzmusic

Highly anticipated Fjokra EP ‘Thoughtsteps’ arrives June 9th

Versatile Irish songwriter looks to build on a growing reputation with brand new release

Influenced by a list of genres and artists taking in classical, metal, funk, jazz and more, Fjokra is an artist who is nigh on impossible to pigeonhole.

Born in Dublin and now living in London, he is a multi-instrumentalist whose music takes in so many different ideas and angles that to tie him down to one genre or style is a fool’s errand – just as it seems you have his sound sussed, a new idea will come and slap you in the face. And that’s just the way Fjokra likes it.

You can see the video for EP track ‘Infinite Loops’ here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5FrW1UyVyY

‘Thoughtsteps’ is an EP that tantalises and astounds. With the album name, artwork and musical content designed to demonstrate alternative, free and independent forms of thinking, the varied style is all tied together by the consistent high quality of the recordings. Even more impressively, the EP is primarily self-produced but for one track from producer Donald Clark (Guns ‘n’ Roses, Muse).

It’s little wonder that Fjokra counts Mick Jones (The Clash), Duran Duran, and Beardyman amongst his fans – and this range of musicians gives you a glimpse into the wide audience demographics the music is connecting with. Peanut Baines of the Kaiser Chiefs put it his own way, labelling Fjokra ‘sex music for metallers’.

With a fan base that is widening thanks to a unique live show (performed with his eponymous band), Fjokra has already graced the stage at Beach Break Festival and Liverpool Sound City. They also performed at a very special concert which saw Tyondai Braxton (of Battles) premiere his new orchestral piece ‘Central Market’ – a truly inspiring experience for the band. And now, with ‘Thoughtsteps’ only a few weeks away and a slot at the Isle of Wight Festival this summer, he is using that inspiration to fuel his forward momentum.

And if you’re still not convinced that this is an artist with a unique approach, then perhaps his unusual approach to promoting the EP will help. In addition to releasing the songs and music videos, Fjokra has also recorded for each track a cookery show, punning on the song titles from the EP. Due to be posted on YouTube and fjokra.com shortly after the songs themselves are released, the tasty teasers will make this EP a truly multi-sensory experience.

Also, keep your eyes peeled for acoustic versions of the EP tracks, recorded in a guitar shop and due on the Fjokra YouTube channel soon.

‘Thoughtsteps’ will be available from June 9th.

Links:

www.facebook.com/fjokraofficial

www.twitter.com/fjokra

Instagram: fjokra

www.youtube.com/fjokra

www.soundcloud.com/fjokra

‘CRYING DAYS’ ARE OVER WITH RELEASE OF NEW NYIKA SINGLE

New Single Released 17th January, 2014

NyikaNyika is a soul funk singer songwriter with Bulgarian and Zimbabwean roots. She has a sound which is reminiscent of other soul acts, such as Omar (both artists having studied at WAC). Being a self managed and published artist, Nyika is indie in the truest sense of the word. In addition, this staunchly independent artist also runs her own record label Too Hip Records. This independence allows Nyika to release music that is unfiltered, personal and direct. This personal approach is reflected in new single ‘Crying Days’, which focuses on her childhood.

Nyika is not complacent and continues to grow as an artist. She has already released two albums which have allowed her to work with some of the same collaborators as George Michael, Dusty Springfield and Kylie Minogue. All of the knowledge she has gained from her previous collaborations have helped to shape ‘Crying Days’.

Having performed at London Gay Pride and being labeled as ‘One to watch’ by Tony Blackburn (BBC Radio), momentum is really building for Nyika. Listening to ‘Crying Days’, it’s clear to see why. The track is a triumphant statement about overcoming past strife and how this ultimately strengthens us.  This is all made clear in the chorus, which proudly states ‘My crying days are over’.

This uplifting message is backed by thudding drums, giving the song a real energy and forward propulsion. This energy permeates the entire song and makes for an exciting listen. This backing is built on by soulful piano chords and funk guitar. If you’ve not listened to Nyika before, ‘Crying Days’ is a great introduction to her indie soul funk style.

‘Crying Days’ will be available for purchase from January 17th.

 

Links:

www.facebook.com/NyikaMusic

www.facebook.com/TooHipRecords

www.soundcloud.com/too-hip-records