is on the road to super stardom. The one time session guitarist toured with Adele back in 2011, released a critically acclaimed debut with Home Again
a year later, and after supporting it, neatly dissappeared for a couple of years. But Kiwanuka is back with his recently released his second full-length album, Love + Hate
. Is it worth a listen? We dig in...
"Cold Little Heart"
"Cold Little Heart" is what an opening track is supposed to feel like. Here, Kiwanuka gives us a drawn out intro that's based more in soulful instrumentation than anything else. The arrangement relies on layered gang vocals, violins, guitar (both acoustic and electric), bass, and drums, which on paper sounds like a million other songs. But what seperates "Cold Little Heart" from the rest of the pack is the soul that he's able to effortlessly draw out of the nearly 10 minute song. In a world where it seems like any song over five minutes long is a little too ambitious, "Cold Little Heart" milks it in the classic, rock and roll aesthetic. Don't sleep on an album that gives you a standout track from the very beginning.
"Black Man in a White World"
In a world where black people in the US still face police brutality and systemic racism, it only makes sense a real soul (I'm looking at you JT) artist would address these issues. While Kiwankua isn't from the states, he's still able to deliver an impactful, catchy and even fun song that speaks to his experience as a black man trying to thrive in the UK. "Black Man in a White World" is upbeat and will make you want to dance while questioning the inequitable society we inhabit. One half lively, one half introspective, the song makes for one hell of a statement that a lot of folks probably aren't comfortable hearing.
Hear that excellent vocal reverb? Oh my folks. "Falling" is a blues inspired song that's as masterfully produced as it is written. The concept behind "Falling" is nothing new, but Kiwanuka manages to deliver again. His voice is able to sit in the middle of the mix and make you remember every failed relationship you've ever experienced. Falling for someone is never easy and Kiwanuka gives the experience picturesque lyrics and a somewhat minimal sonic backdrop, showing us his heart on his sleeve.
"Place I Belong"
Getting older isn't easy folks. On "Place I Belong" Kiwanuka shows us that he's trying to find his place in the world as he grows apart from people he used to know. In terms of production "Place I Belong" relies on solid piano and guitar riffs for Kiwanuka to build upon. While the song isn't necessarily a standout on an otherwise strong album, it still deserves a listen. It's ultimately stronger within the context of the album.
"Love & Hate"
Oh the title track. How I love you. "Love & Hate" is another success as it continues Kiwanuka's cinematic sound that we first hear on "Cold Little Heart". It builds off of another simple guitar riff as well as a gang vocal riff, both of which are able to hold down the majority of this seven minute song. While I could talk about the production on "Love & Hate" for another five minutes, what makes this track standout is its guitar solo. In 2016 we live in a world where the guitar solo is almost dead, but on "Love & Hate" Kiwanuka not only delivers a song that touches on a myriad of topics but he also gives us a seamless seven minute arrangement with a frickin' solo in it.
"One More Night"
The bass line on "One More Night" is as funky as they come. With the addition of electric piano in the background of the mix, "One More Night" is surely single worthy. The simple concept, lyrics, and chorus make this song standout on an already strong album. Maybe not Love + Hate's
best track, but it will definitely serve as an excellent crowd pleaser.
"I'll Never Love"
"I'll Never Love" feels like Kiwanuka is on his last drink in the dingiest bar you can imagine. While the song is of the self-deprecating variety, it's a production standout. "I'll Never Love" is able to fit an electric piano and synths into Kiwanuka's usual mediums, (bass, guitar, drums) all while keeping things under three minutes long. "I'll Never Love" is a great album cut that's simple and to the point.
"Rule the World"
Guitar and the chorus effect have gone together famously since the Pink Floyd days and Kiwanuka continues the tradition on "Rule The World". At just under six minutes, "Rule The World" uses similar elements to what we've already heard from Kiwanuka, but instead of letting the production take the forefront, Kiwanuka's voice is the true star of the show. "Rule the World" may not be an excellent choice for a single but it deserves attention as it delivers everything that Kiwanuka should be known for. That's simple yet direct lyrics, stellar production that's not too in one's face, and a soulful voice that's sure to bring a few chills.
"Father's Child" opens with drums and an intriguing piano riff that falls in and out of dissonance. After the introduction of these two mediums, Kiwanuka introduces strings, gang/chorus vocals, bass and guitar to continue his trio of cinematic seven minute plus songs. "Father's Child" is another song in which Kiwanuka relies on a motif as it goes through different layers of production. The most impactful production transition occurs towards the middle of the song when Kiwanuka pleads with the listener to walk with him as the piano introduces a minor based motif that is sure to pull on some heartstrings. "Father's Child" may be the weakest of the three seven minute plus songs on Love + Hate
but it holds it's own by introducing the album's final act. Also, another guitar solo.
"The Final Frame"
On Kiwanuka's last song he decides to truly display his vocal talents and it's the best decision he makes on the entire album. "The Final Frame" is a minimal send-off. Its beauty lies in its simplicity to deliver a message of longing for what's been lost. On "The Final Frame" Kiwanuka reaches levels of soul that he only gives us glimpses of throughout the album. It may not be single worthy, but it's one hell of a way to end a great album.
Michael Kiwanuka may not be aiming for the pop market with his newest album, but that shouldn't deter you from listening to what could very well be one of 2016's best albums. On Love + Hate
Kiwanuka is able to balance great production with strong vocal performances, and while there isn't a whole lot of single worthy material here, he more than makes up for it by making a full-length album with extended replay value. Cheers to you Mr. Kiwanuka!
(It ain't perfect, but it sure as hell came close!)