On Love & Hate singer Michael Kiwanuka evokes a 60s noir closer to Portishead than to Stax Records | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

Music » Concert Preview

On Love & Hate singer Michael Kiwanuka evokes a 60s noir closer to Portishead than to Stax Records



On his stirring second album, Love & Hate (Interscope), British singer Michael Kiwanuka writes in broad strokes, allowing listeners to adapt themes to their own lives in ways that sting. Given a patient, spacious sound by coproducer Brian Burton (aka Danger Mouse), the record opens with a string-laden track that builds in intensity for some five somber minutes before Kiwanuka—a Brit born to Ugandan parents—utters his first words, questioning his faith and commitment but pledging to power through. At times it can be hard to tell if he’s singing about a troubled relationship or a world gone mad (I’ve recently been gravitating toward the latter reading), but it doesn’t matter; while the singer has explained that the elegant, simmering funk song “Black Man in a White World” was written as a result of playing a loose version of “black” music for largely white audiences, the race-based implications cut much deeper. Love & Hate pulls away from the folk-soul environments of Kiwanuku’s 2012 debut for a feel less specific yet more retro, with many songs evoking a 60s noir closer to the ambient thrust of Portishead than to Stax Records. He delivers searing, psychedelic guitar solos that summon the spirit of Eddie Hazel, but the essence comes down to his seductive voice, which rarely breaks from its sweet yet wounded conversational tone. Few recent albums have translated a feeling of emotional vulnerability with more beauty.   v

Get our free weekly Early Warnings newsletter 💌

It’s Chicago’s essential months-ahead music calendar straight to your inbox.

Support Independent Chicago Journalism: Join the Reader Revolution

We speak Chicago to Chicagoans, but we couldn’t do it without your help. Every dollar you give helps us continue to explore and report on the diverse happenings of our city. Our reporters scour Chicago in search of what’s new, what’s now, and what’s next. Stay connected to our city’s pulse by joining the Reader Revolution.

Are you in?

  Reader Revolutionary $35/month →  
  Rabble Rouser $25/month →  
  Reader Radical $15/month →  
  Reader Rebel  $5/month  → 

Not ready to commit? Send us what you can!

 One-time donation  →