KIWANUKA sets off on a journey that evokes the psychedelic haze of its predecessor, Love & Hate (featuring RIAA US Gold Certified song “Cold Little Heart”, the title track for the HBO series Big Little Lies) but ramps up a very broad sense of scale. With his exquisite band of players, Michael channels an assortment of the late greats (a nod to Gil Scott-Heron here, Bobby Womack flecked there, and the ever-present Otis Redding vocally) for a richly rewarding record that sits typically at odds with the notion and expectations of a successful British singer-songwriter in 2019, and moves even further away from the folk-imbued vintage soul of his debut album, Home Again, back in 2012.
Recorded in New York, LA, and London, Michael returned to the studio with the same acclaimed production team, Danger Mouse & Inflo, that combined so magnificently on Love & Hate. KIWANUKA finds a new assuredness in Michael’s writing and takes the basic sonic blueprint of that last record to a dizzying new realm. Introduced earlier this year with debut single, “You Ain’t The Problem”, Michael’s typically assured, bold, and strident vocals brim with confidence, but what it conceals is almost two years questioning his own ability and identity. Michael followed up with the official video and second single, “Hero”, a scorched epic that propagates the essence of the whole record into a sub five-minute psych-fuzz song. The song pays homage to some of the world’s most important history-changing heroes that were taken too soon due to violence; heroes to Michael and others, like Fred Hampton, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, JFK, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, Marvin Gaye, Tupac and more. The flip side, of course, is the idea that those who bring the most evil to this world seem to live the longest, making him ponder the idea that maybe all heroes die first. The video is based on COINTELPRO- the FBI’s covert program of suppressing organizations and public figures, including musicians, who were involved in or supported anti-establishment political activity from the 1950’s through to the 70’s. Directed by CC Wade, The video shows a tornado of conspiracy surrounding a famous musician’s death, set against the backdrop of 60s black liberation movements, FBI corruption, and hippie counter culture. Most recently, Michael shared “Piano Joint” and accompanying lyric video and debuted “Solid Ground” on COLORS. Watch / stream all at links below.
KIWANUKA fulfills that winding, dream-like haze, unhurried, and is peppered with some of the best songs of Michael’s career to date. Where Love & Hate showcased Michael’s prowess with a guitar, KIWANUKA showcases an ear for musical adventure. Themes that resonated so loudly previously return here, namely Michael’s life-long confusion and questioning of his own identity, but also that of hope and of power. That Michael has spent the past year or two writing and nurturing the record, whilst also finding a newly discovered love for documenting his life behind a lens, lends itself to the suggestion of an artist putting a microscope on his own life. Whilst many of his new findings are layered beneath a warm fuzz of instrumentation, KIWANUKA is Michael serving from the heart, from the mind, and from the soul.
Michael explains: “The last album came from an introspective place and felt like therapy, I guess. This one is more about feeling comfortable in who I am and asking what I want to say. Like, how could I be bold and challenge myself and the listener? It is about self-acceptance in a more triumphant rather than a melancholy way. It’s an album that explores what it means to be a human being today.”
“When I first signed a record deal, people would ask me, ‘So what are you going to be called?’. And I never thought of that; calling myself Johnny Thunders or whatever, like singers from the past. So, on this album it’s kind of a defiant thing; I’m engaging with who I am and I’m not going to have an alter ego, or become Sasha Fierce or Ziggy Stardust, even though everyone’s telling me I need to be this, that or the other. I can just be Michael Kiwanuka.”
1. You Ain’t The Problem
3. I’ve Been Dazed
4. Piano Joint (This Kind of Love) [Intro]
5. Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)
6. Another Human Being (Interlude)
7. Living In Denial
8. Hero (Intro)
10. Hard to Say Goodbye
11. Final Days
12. Interlude (Loving the People)
13. Solid Ground
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