September: Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate

It’s hard to believe that Michael Kiwanuka was being touted as a next big thing a whole four years ago, by BBC Introducing, hot off the back of a fantastic debut single “Home Again”. I loved that at the time but it’s fair to say I’d forgotten about him in the intervening years.

And so while we fretted about the lack of a physical Frank Ocean album, back he popped again. Not randomly: I’d seen him light up Later… earlier in the year with Black Man In A White World, above. It encapsulated why I loved that single back then and – finally – seemed like we may see more of a next big thing, before he became a “whatever happened to…”?

So what do you get with Kiwanuka? It’s not flashy or hip or cool, but that’s the attraction. Sounding like he’s got one foot in Marvin Gaye’s house and one in a smoky basement club in London, it’s modern soul at it’s best. No syrupy production, and while there’s strings, Love & Hate isn’t pastiche, it’s at it’s best an album that’s accessible from the start, with lyrics and a voice that feel heartfelt and powerful.

There’s a lot to love: from Father’s Child with it’s raw, stripped back opening, opening into a chorus of backing vocals and crisp drums. Or Black Man… a track that feels very prescient in today’s world. I’m also a sucker for a long opening track (see Station To Station or Goodbye Yellow Brick Road), and Cold Little Heart is a thing of beauty.

There’s nothing showy, but really in a world of artifice, PR, overproduction, compression, auto tune, this feels much more authentic than any of that without ever trying too hard. And lord knows we need some of that. it’s helpful that Kiwanuka is a genuinely lovely person. I just wish I’d seen him at Glastonbury now.

I’m starting to fall for this record after only a couple of listens, and that’s not something I say often. I hope you feel the same.

9 comments

  1. misterstory

    I will write more than this in the near future … but for now … I love this album. I think its beautiful. I said on email I didn’t know who he was but then found that I’d added Black Man in a White World to my BBC playlister thingy months ago. This album has not disappointed. Mrs. Story and I have both really enjoyed this. The kids are ambivalent but one of them can’t say his own name so I wouldn’t pay too much attention to that.

  2. David Allison

    On my first listen right now. First impressions: I so thought I wasn’t going to like this, I don’t know why. I thought it’d be bland nu-soul and, funnily enough, Black Man… hadn’t really grabbed me.

    Anyway, I was WRONG. It’s FANTASTIC. It immediately reminds me of late 60s pop/orchestral soul like Fifth Dimension and Rotary Connection (featuring Minnie Ripperton), a genre I absolutely bloody love.

    More as I listen again….

  3. nolankane706

    Brothers for all my sins I must admit I was already listening to this album a fair bit on Spotify when brother Guy suggested it.

    As brother Guy touched on, Michael Kiwanuka had allot of hype around him a few years ago, and I was at he front of the hype train honking the horn. I’d stumbled across him one evening about 6 months before his debut album came out and right away I was a fan. The next big soulful voice. Sadly when his album came out myself and many others were let down. It wasn’t at all what I expected. From the great soulful hype, he released a few songs that were boring and didn’t have much to them. I came across that album when i was moving last year and thought ‘what a shame, we’ll never hear from him again’.

    Even when he appeared this year I was hesitant. Fool me once shame on me.. and all that. The thing that made me give it a go was Dangermouse… perhaps he was the missing piece to help him get the real soul out?

    From the start this album means business. A big wall of sound and that amazing soulful voice to back it up. Oh Micheal I’m glad you persevered.

    ‘Love and Hate’ is a beast of a song. It builds, it falls, it pulls you in. ‘I’ll Never Love’ is a sickeningly sad song, and he takes you to a really personal place with it. ‘The Final Frame’, well sheeeet… iI love that track.

    I can speak highly enough of how this guy pulls from so many influences and nails it. This guy (with a little help from some great producers) has hands down made one of the stand out albums of the year.

    Well done for picking this brother Guy!

    • whyohwhyohwhy

      Fully agree with that Brother Nolan. I thought he’d end up as a “whatever happened to…” answer in a few years, but this is bewitching.

      There’s a lot to be said for writing about heartache. It’s why Bon Iver’s first album was brilliant and he’s now disappeared up his own autotuned arse.

      I am fully in love with this album. I can’t stop listening to it.

      • Paul Adderson

        It’s one of those where it’s really hard to either find new superlatives or not to echo what’s been said elsewhere, isn’t it? It’s astonishingly good. It takes some cojones to kick off with a ten minute opus which is so layered and impactful throughout that I looked across to my wife, who was also listening, and just said “wow” about four times throughout.

        There’s nothing to dislike here and it has so much quality. The production is so rich and (I’m a VHS movie collector of the past and I want to throw in “widescreen” at this point but would the kids know what that is? Let’s say IMAX instead. Yeah, that’ll work, let’s go with that) it’s so rich and IMAX, swoopingly orchestral but those gorgeous quiet moments slip in smoothly. It’s measured, subtle and clever; while in truth there’s nothing particularly groundbreaking, its familiarity and immediate accessibility is its strength. The melodies and sections stay with you and bring you back, wanting more. It’s the fusion of classic, 60’s soul tropes and modern production where Kiwanuka’s scores big. On a more popularist level, Mark Ronson’s an expert at this and i’m not going to be snooty because I like both and there’s room for all in this big church.

        Love & Hate could well be the finest album I’ve heard this year and it’s a cracking choice from Guy. Awesome.

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