Sometimes you find an artist who you feel like should be one of the biggest artists going. It happens maybe once or twice a year when you write about music, an artist who transcends whatever you read in their bio. Michael Kiwanuka has been blowing up in Europe for a minute now. With collaborations with plenty stellar acts, Kiwanuka has been proving his chops while growing his sound. Now with his new self-titled album Kiwanuka he’s an act that you should not only get to know, he’s an act who should become a huge deal here in the states.
A couple of notations before digging in. For starters Kiwanuka has changed things up here with touches of his Ugandan roots and retro-soul graces. Produced by Danger Mouse, the album never feels old but rather refreshing and soulful from start to finish. The instrumentation is heavy yet it never weighs down the tracks. There are modern notations that never steer the song into unwarranted territory. With all of this we cannot recommend this album enough, as it’s a contender for one of the best albums of 2019.
“You Ain’t The Problem” opens the album up, mixing African rhythms and sound that’s reminiscent of the Motown era big band sound. Kiwanuka adds his vocals to a mixture that lends itself to being played at full volume. The words resonate between the percussive notes and acoustic strums. It’s a sound that’s big and boastful that resonates throughout this release.
While “I’ve Been Dazed” has this psych funk touch that Kiwanuka uplifts with his tender voice, the song “Piano Joint (This Kind of Love)” is where the magic lies. Touching and graceful, bigger than most piano based songs, Kiwanuka goes bold and bare and doesn’t let you down in his approach. “Hero” gives us an upbeat pace with funk underpinnings that explode into your ears with their weight. “Final Days” has a stark tone that has depth but isn’t sunk by its heft. The songs, some of which have separate intro tracks all hit and stay with you. The depth of the arrangements alone are on another level, while all of the songwriting is top notch.
Though with all of this, our favorite track comes with “Living In Denial.” Kiwanuka returns to that big band sound and the backing vocals by themselves are some of the best you’ve ever heard. Kiwanuka doesn’t hesitate in channeling artists from another era, he relishes in that sound in fact. His vocals and the spacious guitar bounce with a drum tone that feels more in person, like you’re right there with him. The whole album has an honesty that doesn’t come often and a realness that’s difficult to come by in today’s music world.
Kiwanuka can be streamed on all platforms, it can be purchased in all digital music stores or purchased physically on multiple formats from Polydor Records. Michael Kiwanuka is on tour November 07 at Rough Trade SWX in Bristol, UK until November 27, 2020 at Alexandra Palace in London, UK. His complete touring schedule is available here.
Image Credits: Photo by Olivia Rose.