British singer Michael Kiwanuka returns with sophomore album Love & Hate, which builds on the folk-soul of his debut through bluesy acoustic renditions, a sleek production and a growing vocal and lyrical vulnerability.

‘Love & Hate’ by Michael Kiwanuka Album Review

On Love & Hate Kiwanuka teams up with producer Brian “Danger Mouse” Burton and delivers a more mature sound that’s both fresh and familiar. The production brings a darker feel to lighthearted soul we’ve been used to hearing on Kiwanuka’s debut record. Now instead he opts for a more varied sound palette, including phased guitar, strings, gospel choir and a variety of vocal embellishments. Thus, we haven’t quite parted way with the singer’s balladic voice, but it has clearly expanded its range.

The ecstatic 10-minute-long opener “Cold Little Heart” embodies this musical expansion not only with its length but also with the array of sounds that make their way into the final cut. Strings are more prevalent than ever as well as gospel backing vocals and ornate instrumentation. After about 4 minutes of leading us into the world of the album, something changes and Kiwanuka’s voice emerges cultivated and confident. The melancholy tone and textured production is reinforced with a dose of cinematic grandiosity of Pink Floyd scale.

Lead single “Black Man in a White World” similarly employs a layer of backing gospel vocals. A sweeping beat dominates the track which is completed by Kiwanuka’s emotional undertones, especially in the high-pitched phrases. The singer tackles issues of racial identity with profound sensibility and openness. He draws inspiration from his own experience to make sharp commentary about the social world. Once we get to the title track, we are completely in the new real of Kiwanuka’s artistry. The soundscape is still soulful, but decidedly more elaborate. The lyrics too move beyond the intimate simplicity of Home Again towards varied dimensions of self-doubt, soul-searching and discovery.

Ultimately, at its core, Love & Hate is still a personal album, showing vulnerability and self-consciousness. But as a musical feat, it represents Kiwanuka’s growth as an artist over the past few years. Here he expands his style beyond a straightforward genre. His raspy vocals and raw emotion carry on, but the flourishing touches of the soundscape but them in a new context – one that is both innovative and vintage.

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