It’s been four years since soul-folk artist, Michael Kiwanuka, released his debut album, Home Again. It was a cozy and tame undertaking that featured mainly acoustic guitar driven melodies, tailor-made for the coffee house music connoisseur. It bared comparisons to classic soul artists Bill Withers and Otis Redding and contemporaries such as Ben Howard and James Bay. His new project, Love & Hate, is a bolder more daring affair that still offers a dash of his folk-singer quality, but flaunts lush vocal harmonies and meticulously crafted and grandiose arrangements. This is apparent in the 10 track albums opening song “Cold Little Heart,”. It has a Quentin Tarentino essence that swells with a gritty, electric solo for over six minutes before we get re-acquainted with his melancholy, signature raspy vocals.
The Londoner’s new venture was co-produced by Danger Mouse (Adele, Jay-Z, Gnarls Barkley) and hip-hop producer Inflo with a few tracks crafted by Home Again producer, Paul Barton. The collaborations do more than cement his foray into the soul-revival movement, but announces his coronation of sitting atop the vintage-soul genre with the likes of Aloe Blacc and Leon Bridges. Love & Hate does more than simulate retro-soul, but carves out it’s own identity as a gutsy self-portrait that tackles everything from love going awry in the heart-wrenching “Falling,” to racial identity in “Black Man in a White World.” The latter starts with a handclap that blends fluently with drum beats and gravelly yet, at times, creamy vocals with a hint of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield influences.
Other memorable tracks on the album are the catchy and optimistic tune “One More Night,” and the albums title track “Love & Hate,” where repetition is made cool and triumphant lyrics reign supreme. The song is as simplistic as the studio session-like video that accompanies it, but the lyrics of hope and determination give it a resuscitated life. Michael Kiwanuka is clearly one to marvel and Love & Hate is sure to help him avoid the curse of the sophomore slump.