Polydor Records | 2016
“For me it’s human, everyday internal conflict… That’s the kind of album I wanted to make, one about human emotion.” – Michael Kiwanuka.
Simplicity in complexity.
Complexity in simplicity.
These conflicting elements permeate the lyrical and musical themes of the UK soulster’s sophomore album, and with a tangible intensity.
There are the tracks that ooze a cosmic vibe, ones for cruising, and those that hit me square in the chest. Then there are a few that make me want to dance in the middle of a crowded street or the Splendour mosh (you might know which song I’m referring to). Whichever mood you’re in, this record has your tune, yet it plays just as well in its entirety.
“I’m bleeding… my cold little heart.“
I’m started on the journey with a building piano intro, gradually giving way to wispy backing vocals before Pink Floyd-esque guitar comes to the fore. The measured pace is complemented by soft high hat, and an acoustic sound shining through the track’s second half. Then I’m brought full circle with a piano-and-strings outro that in no way prepares me for the infectious ‘Black Man In A White World’.
Kiwanuka’s vocal purity, underscored by the clapping beat, renders it instantly catchy, made further so with light, syncopated guitar. The single is a true gospel gem, with the musician’s voice consistently carrying over the swelling choir, which also takes centre stage towards the end.
Then I’m brought back down from the high with the heavy ‘Falling’, where there’s a hint of the spacey vibe from the album’s opening tune. Not only does a delicious bass sound drive the track, but the rawness of Kiwanuka’s voice peaks as he gloomily sings about deserving to be alone, and that fact being “plain to see”.
A strong bass drum intro sets the scene for the incredibly groovy ‘Place I Belong’. While the soul-stirrer’s long notes and soft huskiness bring a real bluesy vibe, his lows are beautifully offset by the high choral backing vocals.
“You can’t take me down, you can’t break me down, you can’t take me down.”
The ethereal yet acoustic intro of the album’s title track feeds into an opening vocal which is catchy as hell, yet packs an emotional punch as Kiwanuka calls out to all listening to see the show. Somehow, it’s all so consistently paced, combining to form one of my absolute favourites.
Now if you’re on a long road trip and deciding on your playlist, ‘One More Night’ deserves a spot. While not a diamond among the rest and not too suitable for a large crowd, it’s simple lyrics and instrumentation, bass groove and soft dissonance with the drums and keyboard make it perfect for cruising.
“I’ll never love somebody.”
That opening lyric is sung with so much emotion that it instantly pulls my heartstrings. Melancholy is brought through strongly by the hollow bass drum, maracas and a whispered vocal at the end, making me feel as empty as Kiwanuka himself.
“Take me out of myself again… Help me lose control.”
The following two tunes transition so seamlessly into each other that at first I thought they were one. One of my favourite moments on ‘Rule The World’ is when the choir and strings wash in between the songwriter’s imploring vocals, which are steady in pace yet so powerful. It’s chorus is also surprisingly catchy, making it a song I would love to see during Kiwanuka’s Splendour set.
His vocals on ‘Father’s Child’, made dissonant combined with the underscoring piano, maintain their purity while two layers of short and drawn-out backing melody add to the sound.
That emotion, particularly apparent as he reflects that “There’s so much more I can be”, sets up ‘The Final Frame’, a fantastic album-closer on which clean electric guitar helps drive the song after every chorus. The following distortion and keyboard notes tripping over each other add even more feeling to the tune, ending rather suddenly to leave me wavering yet resolved.
Michael Kiwanuka, you certainly helped me lose control with this one.