It’s been a quiet few years for Michael Kiwanuka on the surface, after being flung towards the spotlight by means of a BBC Sound of 2012 win and Mercury Prize nomination for debut album ‘Home Again’, he subsequently slipped into the shadows. Behind the scenes, strings were being tightened and sonics were being stirred in a shroud of doubt and uncertainty over his merits as a musician - a cycle which almost led him to quit music entirely.
‘Home Again’ demonstrated his ability, but some of the work took a swing towards a been-there-done-that country feel a little too often, causing the debut to come off a little twee. This time on ‘Love & Hate’ he’s shaken off this image entirely. He’s allowed his uncertainty to breathe with prog-rock arrangements, of all things.
‘Black Man in a White World’ is a hand-clapped protest, illustrated by disco strings and a funk undercurrent. Later, ‘Place I Belong’ finds Michael howling over a swampy groove, before the title track rings out an adventurous nod to Pink Floyd’s ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ - a noticeable reference point for this record. He’s exchanged the nostalgic focus of his first LP with a timeless feel, which has surfaced in producer Danger Mouse’s presence.
Tangible emotion still underlays the heart of his writing. ‘Father’s Child’ finds him confronting his doubts (“there’s so much more than I can be/ It feels like I’m on borrowed time”), before a clash of rising strings, guitar bends and vocals help draw in a dramatic climax. His guitar is a mighty presence on this record, often adding to the emotional outpours. No doubt about it, his recent collaborations with Jack White and Dan Auerbach have spurred on this six-string affiliation, and it’s allowed to let rip on the tender closer ‘The Final Frame’.
This is a landmark album for a previously forgotten musician, an incredibly neat and satisfying collection of songs. Don’t speak too soon, but did somebody say Mercury?
Records & Merch
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