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Michael Kiwanuka | Kiwanuka

The British soul star takes another step toward greatness on his eponymous outing.

WHO IS HE? The British soul-folk singer-songwriter who enjoys massive respect and acclaim in his homeland, and has slowly been making inroads into North America through your premium cable TV — his songs have been featured in Big Little Lies, The Get Down, Animal Kingdom, Dear White People, Grace & Frankie, When They See Us and more.

WHAT IS THIS? His third studio album and second collaboration in a row with producers Danger Mouse and Inflo.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Another giant step toward greatness. In keeping with its eponymous title, Kiwanuka is the sound of an artist coming into his own. Moving forward from 2016’s superb sophomore slump-dodge Love & Hate, this 14-track disc casually but confidently toes the line between retro-soul and neo-soul, thanks to Danger Mouse and Inflo’s hazy psychedelia, lazy grooves and dusty production, which both contrast and complement Kiwanuka’s warm-yet-world-weary Bill Withers croon and revealing lyrics. Having said that, it’s not one of the greatest albums of the decade, as some typically overenthusiastic British critics have claimed.


HOW SHOULD I LISTEN TO IT? From front to back — most of these songs, instrumental introductions and experimental interludes flow seamlessly from one cut to the next, giving the album the feel of an emotional, spiritual and psychic journey rather than a set of individual songs.

WHAT 10 WORDS DESCRIBE IT? Soulful, trippy, passionate, introspective, yearning, graceful, atmospheric, dusky, immersive, compelling.

WHAT ARE THE BEST SONGS? The fuzzy guitar and popping congas of You Ain’t the Problem and the low-riding funk groove of Rolling get the album off to a fine start; meanwhile, Final Days‘ skittering rhythm and Solid Ground’s ringing piano are reminiscent of Radiohead, and the seven-minute Hard to Say Goodbye is a sweeping, shape-shifting epic that encompasses jazz, folk, orch-soul, futurism and more over the leisurely course of its running time.

WHAT WILL MY FRIENDS SAY? ‘Maybe he should just cut out the middleman and start writing soundtracks for TV shows.’

HOW OFTEN WILL I LISTEN TO THIS? This is one of those albums that slowly but surely draws you into its sonic and emotional landscape.

IF THIS ALBUM WERE AN EXPERIENCE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? Smoking a joint in a warm bath.

SHOULD I BUY, STREAM OR STEAL IT? If you can afford HBO and Netflix, you can toss a little coin his way.