Wednesday, 11 April 2012
Genre Soul, Acoustic, Folk
Label Polydor Records
Producers Paul Butler
Here at the Ephemeric we are only too happy to admit when we are mistaken, as rare as that is. One such mistake took place not all that long ago when we bumped Mr. Kiwanuka's debut album off our top 10 most exciting albums of 2012 and gave it a mere honourable mention. It didn't take long for us to realise the error of our ways and you may consider this review the appropriate remedy.
Michael Kiwanuka seems strangely out of place receiving the sort of hype he has, as a soft spoken acoustic singer in an age of Lady Gaga and Adele; his music treads the well worn path of artists like Paul Simon and Tracy Chapman with a tint of 60s/70s soul, lacking both the sonic pomp and thematic melodrama of his most successful contemporaries. These are lyrics of a more existential context, about persistence and self worth, aimlessness and seeking clarity. It's a far cry from Adele's songs about failed relationships or Black Eyed Peas going out clubbing.
Yet almost by accident his debut album Home Again manages to be a bit of a crowd pleaser. Kiwanuka imbues his retro styling with a modern edge and likeable melodies that seem to appeal as much to the mainstream as to the more discerning music lovers out there.
The obvious examples lie in the titular lead single Home Again, a wistful strummer evocative of a grittier reimagining of early Jack Johnson, and I'll Get Along, which strikes a more jaunty, summery note.
Where the album really impresses, however, is with its capacity for the unexpected. Upbeat opening track Tell Me a Tale characterises this dynamism with its rich instrumentalisation and pleasantly unexpected tonal shifts, while slow burners like Any Day Will Do Fine and I Won't Lie lend real weight to Kiwanuka's otherwise feather-soft vocals.
Paul Butler's production of the album is sublime throughout, with perfectly pitched and suitably satisfying melodies and a wide range of instrumental textures, but it is Kiwanuka's voice that really makes these songs so special. That it's malleable enough to hit the jazzy smoothness of Bones and the R&B soul of the superb I'm Getting Ready highlights a truly unique talent.
This is just a taste of an album where really every song is worth listening to. Home Again manages to accomplish what few others are capable, a balance between the sincerity of a substantial work and the accessibility of a music sensation.
I'm Getting Ready
Tell Me a Tale
I'll Get Along