Albums Of The Week

All's fair in Love & Hate

Michael Kiwanuka comes into his own in his sophomore album

In 2012, British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka came to prominence when his debut LP, Home Again, won BBC's annual music critics poll Sound Of 2012 .

The 29-year-old, whose parents emigrated from Uganda to escape an oppressive regime, was acclaimed for his impassioned songs, an artist as influenced by soul masters such as Ottis Redding as by folk icon Bob Dylan.

In Love & Hate, Kiwanuka's sophomore album, he builds up on the predecessor's retro-stylings and truly comes into his own with a more expansive sound bolstered by his stirring songcraft.

Deeply introspective yet keenly aware of his place in the world, he dips into a wide palette - from soaring gospel and trippy psychedelia to organic R&B and passionate guitar solos.

Michael Kiwanuka grew up on Britpop before delving deeper into soul, R&B and folk.
Michael Kiwanuka grew up on Britpop before delving deeper into soul, R&B and folk. PHOTO: UNIVERSAL MUSIC

Rule The World, marked by plaintive pleads ("Show me love, show me happiness, I can't do this on my own) starts out sparse and mellow, before syncopated drum beats and strings take over, swelling into a satisfying closure.

When the singer-guitarist croons "The trouble song in the moonlight/Will be my bride", his tender delivery is poignant, as moog synthesizers and electronic piano lines coalesce in the background.

He explores identity in Black Man In A White World ("I'm in love but I'm still sad/I've found peace but I'm not glad"), where rootsy handclaps and chants soon morph into an upbeat, dancefloor-ready stunner driven by Latin beats and disco vibes.

Like many of his generation, Kiwanuka grew up on Britpop before delving deeper into soul, R&B and folk.

You can hear a little bit of Blur frontman Damon Albarn's fragile croonings on the verse of Father's Child, a seven-minute, slow-burning orchestral rock track in which he longs for guidance ("Walk with me/ I am more than things you won't forgive").

It is not the longest track on the release. That distinction goes to sprawling album opener Cold Little Heart. It is unusual for a singer- songwriter to launch into an LP with a lengthy 10-minute track, especially when he does not start to sing until the mid-way mark.

  • SOUL/FOLK

  • Michael Kiwanuka grew up on Britpop before delving deeper into soul, R&B and folk.LOVE & HATE

    Michael Kiwanuka

    Polydor/Interscope

    4.5/5 stars

There is a beautiful pay-off in committing to the slow, Pink Floyd-like build-up, though.

The descending chord progressions, mournful guitar solos and strings give way to a heart-rending second-half, with Kiwanuka channelling the likes of Nina Simone in his emotive singing. "Maybe this time I can go far/But thinking about where I've been/ Ain't helping me start," he sings, as the key changes dramatically towards the end.

His decision to work with celebrated producer Danger Mouse (Gnarls Barkley, The Black Keys and Gorillaz), together with co- producers Inflo and Paul Butler, is clearly a winning move.

A combination of the singer's affecting delivery and guitar-playing, a masterful layering of instrumentations and exquisite arrangements make for a truly moving album.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2016, with the headline 'All's fair in Love & Hate'. Print Edition | Subscribe