Miguel

We get a lot of records sent to us here at The A.V. Club. Fortunately, we end up liking some of them. In Playlisted, we share our latest recommendations.

Album: Art Dealer Chic Vol. 1, 2, and 3 by Miguel (available now as free downloads)

Press play if you like: Cutting-edge R&B with impeccable pop instincts; Prince at his funkiest; heavenly crooning; chivalry

Some background: Jive apparently didn’t have major hopes for Miguel’s All I Want Is You when the label quietly released it in late 2010 with scant publicity, but that debut went on to become one of last year’s sleeper hits, thanks to arguably the most engaging singles run of any R&B album since Usher’s Confessions. While Miguel was familiarizing himself with the charts—his biggest hit, the woozily seductive “Sure Thing,” hovered on them for more than a year—a new breed of unsigned, R&B self-starters were monopolizing all the online buzz with free Internet albums. Miguel gets in on that act with Art Dealer Chic, a trio of short EPs he released over the last three months in hopes of reaching the growing audience that discovers its R&B off the airwaves. Collectively, these nine songs form the most restless, revelatory R&B album of 2012 so far. Each track is a distinct from the last, set apart by some eccentricity or another: a bold tempo, an out-of-time vocal pattern, usually loud guitars, or synths that are abnormally warped, muffled, or otherwise off-the-wall. Even more than on his debut, Miguel indulges his bohemian side on these EPs. He probably wouldn’t be too out of place at one of The Weeknd’s loft parties, though he’s more likely to spend them discussing François Truffaut and Claude Chabrol with grad students than doing lines off glass tables. He’s suave, considerate, and presumably a master lover, but underneath all that sophistication is a suggestion that he’s also a bit of a dork. “Champion the ones that I’m near most / fellow outcasts and weirdos,” he sings on “…ALL.”

Try this: Miguel’s experimentation never carries him too deep into the shadows. Behind all the future-shock production and twisty melodies, there’s always a direct, to-the-point pop song. That’s especially true of “Arch N Point,” Miguel’s three-minute deconstruction of the power ballad. Its raw guitar riff strikes as a surprise, but within moments, the singer’s tender harmonies kick in. Like Prince at his most carnal, the track shows that sleazy and romantic don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

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