Michael Kiwanuka gambles big on his sophomore album, with winning results
British singer-songwriter Michael Kiwanuka’s 2012 full-length debut “Home Again” was a lovely, low-key effort loaded with potential and shot through with mellow soul. Clearly though, no one is going to label his sophomore album “Love & Hate” low-key. Produced by habitual risk-taker Danger Mouse, the album makes its ambitions evident on the opening track, the 10-minute orchestrated stunner “Cold Little Heart.” (More risky business: Kiwanuka doesn’t start singing until five minutes in.) Strings and lush backing vocals colour many of the songs, bringing to mind “Hot Buttered Soul”-era Isaac Hayes. Thematically, Kiwanuka is tackling bigger, thornier issues here. He bluntly addresses the issue of race on “Black Man in a White World” and wrestles with self-doubt and his place in the world on tracks such as the slow-build, psychedelic opus “Father’s Child.” As on “Home Again,” the groove is languorous throughout, and it might be nice to get a bump or two in the beats-per-minute next time around. But here the unhurried pace is unifying and mesmerizing. It’s early days yet—the album was released only last week– but come year’s end, I wouldn’t be surprised to find it on many best-of lists, perhaps even atop them. Including my own.