Release Date: Jul 15, 2016
Record label: Interscope
Genre(s): R&B, Pop/Rock
There's a thoughtfulness that permeates Michael Kiwanuka's second album, Love & Hate. Across ten songs, the UK-based singer-songwriter and musician creates an introspective study of himself and his standing in a post-millennial world. With Brian Burton, a.k.a. Danger Mouse, handling a bulk of the production, Kiwanuka's direction is indicated by a lyric on "Rule the World": "Do I have to lose my mind? / Cause it's been wandering."Right off the top, the ten-minute "Cold Little Heart" — nearly half of which is an instrumental intro — sets the mood: measured, melodic, masterful.
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.
On his ambitious sophomore set, London native Michael Kiwanuka expands outward from the warm retro-soul of 2012 debut, Home Again. With its trio of producers and transatlantic recording locales, Love & Hate arrives with the weight of high expectations. Announcing his intentions from the start, Kiwanuka challenges listeners with "Cold Little Heart," an exquisitely arranged, ten-minute opus of lush strings and elegant backing vocals whose first line doesn't arrive until the halfway point.
Three months ago, the first single from Michael Kiwanuka’s second album was released. Called Black Man in a White World, it opened like an old field recording of a work song, or as Kiwanuka himself put it, “slave music”: handclaps and a distorted a capella vocal eventually giving way to beautifully orchestrated, but agitated-sounding funk, backing vocals repeating the title over and over again, as if determinedly hammering a point home. It was a pretty strident comeback, but, in one sense, not entirely surprising.
By the time Michael Kiwanuka released his debut LP in 2012 there was already quite the buzz around his particular blend of soul. His 2011 EP Tell Me a Tale (Isle of White Sessions) had garnered excited comparisons to Otis Reading, Curtis Mayfield and Bill Withers. And yet when first long player did arrive Home Again fell somewhat short of the promise of the three songs on the EP.
Since Michael Kiwanuka's debut, Home Again, which retrofit his gruff, doleful voice to a number of well-loved and well-passed styles of R&B, the singer-songwriter has admittedly struggled to find a unique sound of his own. His ambitious follow-up, Love and Hate, is the outgrowth of a few years of searching, as well as a strategic teaming with producer Brian Burton (a.k.a. Danger Mouse).
If you love hard enough, you’ll experience some sort of heartbreak. It’s just a thing that happens, and it doesn’t matter how many dates you enjoy or how many roses you buy. Some people will simply leave you in limbo—with lingering pain, unresolved questions and mounds of regret to sort through. It’s this same fog that permeates Michael Kiwanuka’s new album, Love & Hate, a sprawling soul opus full of longing and self-assessment.
Michael Kiwanuka could easily be your common-or-garden young soul man, all furrowed of brow, bittersweet of piano chord and gravelly of croon. Pots of gold await that kind of approach, thanks to a record-buying public still heavily invested in the soul revival. Mercury-nominated for Home Again, his graciously turned soul-folk debut of 2012, Kiwanuka has been awol for four years, crafting his second album alongside producers such as Home Again’s Paul Butler, Londoner Inflo and celeb import Danger Mouse, watching poseurs such as James Bay get famous.
In common with recent breakout stars Leon Bridges and Curtis Harding, the music of young Londoner Michael Kiwanuka leans heavily on the tried and tested tropes of classic soul. After debuting in 2012 with the confident Home Again, his follow-up – Love & Hate, a full two years in the making – sees Kiwanuka further ramp up the ambition; painting on a larger canvas, expanding his reach. The result is a set of impressive, deeply reflective songs that draw copiously from blues and soul history, given a modern gloss by producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, Black Keys).
"Love & Hate," the new album from Michael Kiwanuka, features songwriting and producing help from Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton. On Michael Kiwanuka's 2012 debut album, "Home Again," the U.K. singer receded into the nostalgic haze of his influences. He came across as an earnest disciple of Bill Withers, Terry Callier and 1960s-'70s folk-soul, a retro artist without the feel for hooks demonstrated a few years later by another young retro soul miner, Leon Bridges.
The vintage vibes of Michael Kiwanuka’s 2012 folk-soul-jazz debut album, Home Again, struck a cross-generational chord. Its follow-up, Love & Hate, keeps what was best about those classic dusty sounds, updating them under the direction of deft modern-day producers Danger Mouse (Portugal. The Man, Gorillaz) in the first degree, and Inflo (Tom Odell, The Kooks) in the second.
Released at the start of a summer in which hate, division and anxiety have felt so unusually prominent, Michael Kiwanuka’s second studio album Love & Hate is bound to resonate. Lead single "Black Man in a White World" tackles “the sadness and frustrations of childhood, of being one of very few black kids in Muswell Hill, and never feeling like fitting in” he explains, while in the title track, he begs: “Love and hate, how much more are we supposed to tolerate?”. But the real weight of the record lies in its cathartic approach to dealing with personal insecurity; its honest questioning of ambition, spirituality and the capability to love, in which Kiwanuka lays himself in front of you, warts and all.
Micheal Kiwanuka emerged in 2012 in a whirlwind of critical support. He was the winner of the BBC Sound of 2012 poll and garnered a Mercury Award nomination in the UK for best album of the year for his debut Home Again. Introducing Kiwanuka’s soul-infused brand of folk music and whilst Home Again was a good album it fell short of expectation. Too much of it sounded deferential to its predecessors and there was not enough of Kiwanuka himself.
In times of pain and fear, the past can feel like a refuge. Michael Kiwanuka’s second album, “Love & Hate,” is a sustained, stylized plunge into despair: plaints of isolation, doubt, lovelessness, racial injustice, longing, hopelessness and a certain resolve despite it all, often set to mournful minor chords. “Love and hate — how much more are we supposed to tolerate?” he asks in the title song, before quietly insisting, “You can’t break me down.” The album’s comforts lie in its spacious retro sound.
In 2012, Michael Kiwanuka left [a]Frank Ocean[/a] and [a]Skrillex[/a] in his wake to win the BBC’s ‘Sound Of’ poll. But since then, the north Londoner has been somewhat less prominent than some of the poll’s other champs. While [a]Adele[/a], [a]Ellie Goulding[/a] and [a]Sam Smith[/a] have gone on to be bigger than the Brexit backlash, Kiwanuka has avoided becoming a household name.