Release Date: Jul 17, 2012
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): R&B, Pop/Rock, Contemporary Singer/Songwriter
Steeped in the unplugged soul vibe of Terry Callier, Van Morrison and the music Otis Redding didn't live to make after "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," Michael Kiwanuka is a former London session guitarist who flashes a gentle spirit and a voice like hash smoke on this debut album. Credit its lushness – more indelible than the songs themselves – in part to producer Paul Butler of U.K. indie-rock maximalists the Bees, who helped build remarkable multitrack orchestrations with just a handful of players.
It seems that Michael Kiwanuka’s debut should only be sold at the used counter, a dusty record stuffed inside a weathered sleeve, because the LP possesses a sound and spirit that’s years older than he is. Resonating string and brass arrangements on songs like “Rest” rival Nick Drake’s Bryter Layter in their incandescence, but it’s Kiwanuka’s staggering voice that makes you wince at its unrestrained sincerity and tenderness. How the hell can someone born two decades ago sing like they’ve lived and longed through three lifetimes? .
Seeing a stateside release a few months after his native UK’s initial release of Home Again, Michael Kiwanuka’s brand of folk soul is an anomaly in the world of major labels. With a rich, inviting voice that is paired with equally soothing production that ranges from coffeehouse acoustics to fuller orchestral flourishes from The Bees’ Paul Butler, it’s refreshing to see Interscope get behind an artist who embodies everything that isn’t typically coveted by a major or US Top 40 radio in these modern times. However, it goes beyond the voice and production.
If such a thing as a racing certainty still exists in these turbulent times for rock and pop, then Michael Kiwanuka's debut album may well be it. It's always unwise to make predictions about these things, but there's no getting around the fact that the 24-year-old's music ticks a lot of boxes on the list headed Things People Seem to Like These Days. Kiwanuka has links to the west London folk scene that spawned Laura Marling and Mumford and Sons: he is signed to Communion, the record label owned by the latter's bassist, Ben Lovett.
After touring with Adele and signing to the U.K. label run by Mumford & Sons’ bassist, the British crooner has earned such a devoted following of Anglophile hipsters, you’d think he created Downton Abbey. Luckily, he earns that love on his debut Home Again, which blends warm vintage soul with the cozy acoustic vibe of West London’s pub scene. From the jazzy folk of ”I’m Getting Ready” to the lush flutes and horns of ”Tell Me a Tale,” Kiwanuka smolders.
Anglo-Ugandan singer/songwriter Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album was released in the United Kingdom back in March. Home Again became available digitally in the United States in May and now, physical copies of the folksy, bluesy, soulful record have finally hit American streets. At just 24 years old, Kiwanuka has already found the voice of an old soul.
Depending on the consumer viewpoint, the announcement of Michael Kiwanuka as the new BBC “Sound of 2012” may have been either surprising or predictable. Ever since its inception in 2003, the annual poll has provided an introductory pamphlet for major labels to step into a bidding war in pursuit of scoring the next big coup; or more accurately, a blatant reminder for executives to kick themselves for missing out on a reasonably commercial prospect. Unquestionably the most disciplined victor in the poll’s short history, Kiwanuka falls in a happy medium of sorts – a quiet intellect with an agreeable disposition and gravity, the budding songwriter promises something more valuable than a temporary spike in sales: the viability of artistic longevity.
Seeing Michael Kiwanuka on the bill at some of last summer’s festivals, you saw a talent worth keep an eye on. Often appearing solo accompanied by just an acoustic guitar, Kiwanuka was a natural, likeable presence, delivering a fine line in crafted songwriting. Minds weren’t exactly blown, but there was a clear sign of a promising talent. Then the BBC Sounds Of poll happened.
Burdened as we are by worry about reunion overload, retromania and the commercial dominance of easy, mellow sounds, it’s no surprise that this poor young/old London soul has found himself the chew-toy of critical fretting. Is the BBC Sound Of 2012 winner really the sound of 2012, or the sound of 1970, or the sound of a stillborn future? Of course, none of this matters, if he’s the sound of himself. On this relentlessly accomplished debut, [a]Michael Kiwanuka[/a] certainly proves he’s more than just another new-soul crooner; the softly rolling, thoughtful likes of ‘I’m Getting Ready’ owe more to the sexy, intense, jazzy folk-soul of Tim Buckley or Terry Callier than any attempt to be a modern-day Marvin Gaye, or an Adele with smaller hair and more grandad knits.
An age ago, major labels signed artists knowing it would take three, four, or even five records before she or he matured sufficiently to build a a dedicated audience. Some labels even signed "prestige artists," those who wouldn't necessarily make boatloads of cash, but their presence on one's roster would attract those who would. These days, the expectations for someone to deliver out of the gate are ridiculous.
Home Again, the debut album by Michael Kiwanuka, is a curious debut for the winner of the BBC Sound of 2012 poll. It may be available as a download but it desperately wants to be a 33rpm vinyl record with a faded sleeve that first entered the second-hand record market around 1973, rather than a 21st-century artefact. It begins gorgeously, with little flurries of flute on the minor-key "Tell Me a Tale".
Right off the back of being awarded the revered BBC Sound Of 2012 accolade, hotly-tipped newcomer Michael Kiwanuka releases his debut album today. Taking the name of lead track ‘Home Again’, the album meanders between bright optimism and the burden of worry in the same vein as Kiwanuka’s soul and folk predecessors. He takes us through the album’s listed contents track-by-track.1.
The Sound of 2012 winner’s debut is full of faith and sincerity. Matthew Horton 2012 Earlier this year Michael Kiwanuka saw off tasty competition from hot tips Frank Ocean and Azealia Banks to be named the BBC’s Sound of 2012 winner by a panel of critics who clearly saw greater long-term potential in the London-born singer-songwriter than in his more obviously hip rivals. If they're minded to, Ocean and Banks have a right to feel aggrieved – the critics were 40 years out.
Home Again introduces Michael Kiwanuka as an enormously gifted UK songwriter and old soul in the body of a twentysomething Londoner. At its best, Kiwanuka's rich voice conveys a universality reminiscent of Bill Withers and Richie Havens, singing about nothing and everything all at once. Opener "Tell Me a Tale" sounds filtered through Instagram, as a stunning succession of flutes, strings, acoustic guitars, and Fela Kuti-styled horns ooze through a nostalgic folk resin.