The vintage vibes of Michael Kiwanuka’s 2012 folk-soul-jazz debut album, Home Again, struck a cross-generational chord. Its follow-up, Love & Hate, keeps what was best about those classic dusty sounds, updating them under the direction of deft modern-day producers Danger Mouse (Portugal. The Man, Gorillaz) in the first degree, and Inflo (Tom Odell, The Kooks) in the second.
Spare yet rich, Love & Hate fluctuates between highlighting Kiwanuka’s accomplished guitar work on “The Final Frame”—a nod to latter-day R&B-centric Beatles—to mood-enhancing gospel backup vocals on “Black Man In A White World,” to shimmering strings on “Cold Little Heart,” and all three on the title track. Under the tutelage of the two producers, Kiwanuka’s wonderfully warm voice has become even more cultivated.
The major criticism of Home Again was Kiwanuka’s subject-matter limitations and his tendency to play things safe. Love & Hate remedies that, seeing him expand his lyrical reach. Both reflective and observational, he lays himself bare and vulnerable while turning a sharp lens onto society and managing to avoid predictable moralization. Exemplifying the former is “Father’s Child,” which is spiked by frantic strings, then toned down by simple keys and a keening guitar. The aforementioned “Black Man In A White World”—whose title signals its direct message, and whose handclaps reference Southern Baptist churches’ “soulful handclaps”—illustrates the latter. Love & Hate is a massive leap in accomplishment for Kiwanuka.