Michael Kiwanuka

Love & Hate

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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. It's a Homeric bit of heartbroken prog-soul that shows off its creator's lead guitar chops as much as his rich, sandy voice. Co-produced by Danger Mouse and Inflo, it also introduces the heavy tonal palette that runs through the remainder of the album's ten tracks, even those produced by Kiwanuka's longtime collaborator, Paul Butler. Where Home Again was ultimately an intimate and gentler affair, Love & Hate puts some distance between singer and audience as he offers his worldweary introspections against the framework of '70s R&B, funk, and spaced-out rock. The timely social commentary of lead single "Black Man in a White World" feels lonesome and heavy in spite of its uptempo, hand-clapped rhythm and nimble guitar groove. Throughout the album, the space between parts is somehow wider, yet each tambourine hit, backing vocal, or funky guitar lick feels darker and more severe. The mildly psychedelic title cut is a mid-album standout whose slow-burning swagger and epic seven-minute length is countered by the tight, punchy "One More Night." Overall, Love & Hate has very little of the breezy, quietly strummed charm of its predecessor, but it represents serious growth from an artist deliberately pushing his boundaries. With this release, Kiwanuka has delivered a dark, graceful, and affecting artistic statement that is worth the patience it takes to experience it.

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