Michael Kiwanuka - Love and Hate (2016)

Michael Kiwanuka
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Michael Kiwanuka - Love and Hate

Four years after his critically acclaimed first album Home Again, British singer Michael Kiwanuka is back with Love and Hate, an album charged with personal sentiment, lyrical complexity, and thrilling, entertaining, instrumentation. It’s an album to listen to several times.

Michael Kiwanuka - Love and Hate

Four years after his critically acclaimed first album Home Again, British singer Michael Kiwanuka is back with Love and Hate, an album charged with personal sentiment, lyrical complexity, and thrilling, entertaining, instrumentation. It’s an album to listen to several times.

Michael Kiwanuka is the British son of Ugandan immigrants. He was raised in North London, where he began his career as a session musician and doing local gigs. He exploded onto Britain and the US’s musical scene in 2011 with the EP Tell Me A Tale and a neo-soul aesthetic that reminded listeners of a sober, collected, version of a 70’s soul singer. Though it was not a chart topper in the US, his subsequent first album, Home Again, was one of the great soul releases of 2012. Now, four years later, Kiwanuka’s sound is more musically complex music than we are accustomed to from him. He seems to have traveled a mile between his last release and this release, resulting in ten compositions that have both more experimentation and more musical ambition than anything he has previously released.

Love and Hate begins with an unusual musical statement for 2016: A song, “Cold Little Heart,” that clocks in at over ten minutes. With it, he appears to be saying that the culture of soul music has been seriously limited by the three to five minute songs that dominate radio. Sonically, it is long and lush, with three major movements: one purely instrumental, a second that is both more rhythmic and which features Kiwanuka’s amazing singing voice, and a last one that focuses more strongly on the vocal performance. It is a beautiful, ambitious track that numbs its listener.

There are two other long songs on the album, “Love and Hate” and “Father’s Child.” Kiwanuka sings the former song’s complex lyrics with enough majesty to entertain his listener and not give his song an operatic quality. But it is the song’s instrumentation that enthralls the most. The other, “Father’s Child,” is groovy and pleasant. Despite Kiwunuka’s singing and despite the various instruments and melodies that we hear, the song’s beat is its highlight.

This album’s shorter songs are phenomenal; he’s mastered the form. One of them, “Black Man in a White World” is this album’s most impressive. It is a profoundly neo-soul song wherein we hear clapping, guitar, solo singing, choir, and political commentary that is well researched and doesn’t simply use pathos in order to sell. It’s one of the clearest and most poignant songs released about black masculinity in the Western world recently.

Among the recent spate of British soul album releases, Kiwanuka’s is perhaps the most complex lyrically and instrumentally. The stories require attentive listening and the production is equally challenging to the listener. But it is that complexity that gives additional power to the project. Regardless of if these songs end up being soul anthems in our culture or underground soul, they are all major achievements in the long and important history of the soul genre, and this is a valuable musical addition to 2016. Highly recommended.

By Emmanuel Adolf Alzuphar

 
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