A sombre, hypnotic affair, though slightly repetitive, that will catch you up in its rhythm.
Since winning the BBC Sound Of award and releasing debut album Home Again in 2012, Michael Kiwanuka has become a staple of British soul music. After four years of waiting, sophomore effort Love & Hate arrives to top the album chart, in the process making it clear that he is continuing his smooth, underrated control of the genre.
Opener ‘Cold Little Heart’ clocks in just under 10 minutes, yet it doesn’t even hint of dragging despite its opening half being instrumental. The use of electric guitar and vibrato on the strings creates a consistently alluring atmospheric build, then when Kiwanuka begins to sing, his vocal reminds you exactly why he is so adored. His voice, simultaneously raw and smooth, has an inexplicable ability to make you want to keep listening. It has a strange sort of calming effect, even in the faster paced tracks such as the single ‘Black Man In A White World’ and ‘One More Night.’
He draws his influences from different places and though Love & Hate‘s tracks have significantly different vibes the whole album fits together like a puzzle – a beautiful flowing presence from song to song. Songs like ‘Black Man In A White World’ have an essence of more traditional soul, with the use of choral chants shadowing his voice alongside the familiar rhythm and clapping.
Other tracks, like ‘Falling,’ seem of a different era, but are equally as hypnotic. The title track evolves into some semblance of classic rock somewhere in its 7 minutes, but again, this does not feel out of place. Kiwanuka’s use of instrumentation, particularly electric guitar and violin, has a way of connecting each record so at their core is the same substance.
With Love & Hate you really get a sense of Kiwanuka taking his time to tell the stories he wants to tell, particularly after his four year break, with half of the album comprising songs longer than 5 minutes. This creates a sense of integrity, showing him doing just what he wants to with this record. However, it remains neat and precise, greatly helped by the solid production and the sheer magnitude of the songwriting’s brilliance.
Though the style of the music more than anything else does lend the record repetitive aspects and blur some tracks gently together, masking individual stories and ideas, Love & Hate is a well constructed and beautiful listen, making for the perfect soundtrack to either a long drive or a chilled day in the sun.
Love & Hate is out now via Polydor