‘Love & Hate’ Michael Kiwanuka’s new album (July 15th) is not only the most soulful delivery I have without a doubt heard this year, it is actually shaping up to be one of my favourite albums ever. As I let that comment sink in, the album is so profoundly flooded with confessional emotion in its compelling melodies and heritage in sound that it’s impossible to not move the listener. Everything about this album seems so incredibly real and powerful. Powerful, as the album is about self-love and strength in vulnerability, baring all, knowing that the music doesn’t have to be anything more than what it is because that is more than enough.
Where the critically acclaimed debut album ‘Home Again’ (April 2012) saw the British Ugandan being heralded for soul and heritage, this album goes much further. It is almost musically akin to a stream meeting a river. Where ‘Home Again’ has specific inspiration in grappling with Kiwanuka’s Faith, ‘Love & Hate’ is completely holistic. It is much more diverse, with a more complex and intricate personality, as Kiwanuka comes to terms with all his insecurities about himself. One of my favourite things about the album is that the listener can hear elements of all of Kiwanuka’s personal identities flow through the record shaping and forming the sound of him and what makes him who he is. I’m not sure I can remember the last time I heard such conscientious heritage in sound and subject matter, and it’s so marvellously refreshing.
Sonically, it’s easy to hear more motown influence in ‘Love and Hate’ with abundance of tambourines, congas, backing vocals and strings. There is also newfound psychedelic electric guitar as Kiwanuka claims to have become obsessed with Hendrix after watching a documentary as a teen. However with the deft production of Danger Mouse there is a darker, freer and authentic multilateral influence to the album as well; unusually responsible for nearly all the songs on the album sounding as though they could be at home as a soundtrack in a Tarantino film.
Despite love and hate being two emotions that are seemingly at opposite ends of the emotional spectra, they are much closer than they appear. The resonance and importance of this album being released at a time in which hate, division and anxiety have felt so unusually prominent cannot go understated. Just as the album is a song-by-song intersectional look on candid introspection like ‘Black Man in a White World’, it is also an appreciation that everything is connected in the world. For someone who has stepped outside of his comfort zone, taking the risk in a somewhat more relaxed approach in recording his sophomore album (yet still with uncompromisingly directed fluency of expression) it lends to fantastic and very powerful result.
Michael Kiwanuka – ‘Love & Hate’ came out July 15th
Words by Jess Bartlet