It’s rare these days to encounter an album or artist that perfectly portrays emotion through their music, and not only that, but emotion you can believe in and feel too. Michael Kiwanuka’s latest album Love And Hate has not only achieved this, but has also brought about the return of soul to the charts.
Kiwanuka is a British soul artist based in London, who is signed to Communion Records/Polydor Records. He had previously worked as a session guitarist for the likes of Chipmunk and Bashy before becoming a solo artist. He won the BBC’s Sound of 2012 poll and has been compared throughout his career, to big names in music such as Otis Redding, Van Morrison, The Temptations and Randy Newman. His first album Home Again was released in 2012, and was nominated for a Mercury Prize.
Love And Hate, Kiwanuka’s second studio album, was released on July 15 via Polydor Records in the UK and Interscope Records in the US. The first single from the album was titled “Black Man In A White World” and was released in March along with a music video directed by Hiro Murai, a Japanese cinematographer known for his short films. The title track “Love And Hate” was released in April, garnering positive feedback and reviews for the album.
“Love And Hate” begins with an upbeat guitar riff, with Kiwanuka’s vocals chiming in and creating a jaunty sound to the track. This could be the face of the ‘love’ aspect to the song, as the piano breaks through to lift the track to soulful heights, yet the dark and deep drum beat and soaring, pained violin changes the tone and relationship of the music of the track like ‘hate’.
Kiwanuka’s voice is echoed and rings loud above the melody beneath, and as a listener, it is immediately obvious that Kiwanuka connects with what he is singing. His voice is full of talent and soul, which allows for full involvement when listening to the song, as you are not questioning his reality. “You can’t break me down” almost sounds a little pathetic, as though he hates his love for the fact that he has been broken down, and he is in denial of where he stands. The song is a battle between his love for the person, and his hate for how they treat him.
Kiwanuka’s voice could stand-alone, it is full of ability and expression, and the music is merely there to support his storytelling. “Rule The World” has a Wah Wah pedalled guitar rising and falling with the vocals, and there are hopeful backing vocals throughout the track. It begins slow and steady, as though the listener is braced for the emotional wave they are to be hit with, as when the drum beat kicks in, you can feel the tempo and flavour of the song twisting into desperation and wanting.
“Take me out of myself again/I can’t do this on my own” shows that Kiwanuka feels helpless, he is trapped in his bubble of feeling and is relying on somebody close to him to pull him through and distract him from his own being. This is a song topic that is relatable, which is why the track is bound to be successful, as everybody needs to be reminded of what is important at some point, and to be pulled out of the downward spiral that is inner thoughts, and Kiwanuka expresses that through song; it is his escape.
“I’ll Never Love” is shiver-worthy as Kiwanuka is truly blessed with vocal talent, and the ability to modernise soul music so that all listeners can appreciate the music. His raspy yet gentle voice is contrasting in itself, and you can trust anything it tells you. It features a typical soul beat so it has a sense of familiarity within it, which makes you think you have heard it before many years ago as though Kiwanuka has been with you all the way.
“Black Man In A White World” is upbeat and has almost a gospel element to it with the chorus and repetition of “I’m a black man in a white world”, so the subject matter contrasts with the song vibe, so a message is portrayed to the listener without overbearing them and thus stopping them switching off. It could easily be a snippet of Sister Act, or be featured in musicals yet to come.
“The Final Frame” nicely wraps up the album into a perfect little gift, as it is slow and allows the listener to wind down, with a blues guitar riff breaking through after the first chorus. The album follows Kiwanuka on his path down his own personal love and hate, you face all the problems and confirmations thrown at him and you mirror his own feeling whilst creating the tracks when listening to each track for the brief couple of minutes you are engaged with it.
Kiwanuka holds your attention and does not let go until the album comes to its end, at which point you feel as though you have felt everything and have survived your own personal reality check. He is a true talent, as he lingers with you long after you have heard his music and he has both the singing skills and the musical abilities. Michael Kiwanuka is a rare find. Purchase his Love And Hate album on iTunes here.
Words by Libby Beacham