Michael Kiwanuka, "Love & Hate" (Interscope/Polydor)
Michael Kiwanuka takes a wide-screen approach to emotional distress on "Love & Hate," a collection of darting shadows rooted in straightforward melodies.
Avoiding the sophomore slump, the Londoner's second album benefits from the talents of producers Danger Mouse and Inflo, whose soundscapes give the sorrowful topics plenty of room. Paul Burton, who produced Kiwanuka's 2012 debut, "Home Again," also helms three tracks.
There's a cinematic quality to opening track "Cold Little Heart," a 10-minute technicolor burst of strings, slide guitar and overdriven choral accompaniment that's as adventurous as it is engaging. Quentin Tarantino would turn it into a three-hour film with a Hollywood ending.
Most of the album's 10 songs are rooted in Kiwanuka's acoustic guitar and warm, expressive voice. It's a solid foundation for the souped-up arrangements and can even bear with grace the heaviness in the shame, deception, loss and hurt of the lyrics.
"Black Man in a White World" starts like a slave song and lists troubling contradictions that never dissipate. The title track at the album's midpoint returns to the Isaac Hayes-like combination of distorted guitar and insistent backing vocals, its demons symbolically chased away by the trotting, confident "One More Night."
Earlier musical comparisons to Terry Callier and Bill Withers still stand, with Kiwanuka's singing also taking on some Paul Weller tones.
"I hope this is just the start of more music to come," says Kiwanuka, so maybe next time he'll also add some of Withers' optimism.
"Love & Hate" confirms Kiwanuka, a son of Ugandan immigrants, as a major talent whose soul-scouring search is well worth following.