Sunday, April 8, 2012

Michael Kiwanuka - Home Again (2012)

 Most obviously, Kiwanuka's music fits the post-Amy Winehouse vogue for faux-vintage soul. It signposts its retro intentions from its opening seconds – the first thing you hear is a jazzy flute in a style not dissimilar to that of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. In fact, there's jazz flute all over the shop, along with saxophones blowing free solos and string and brass arrangements that so obviously recall the early 70s – not just Bill Withers or Terry Callier, but Van Morrison's Moondance and Nick Drake's Bryter Layter – you listen in fear that the whole thing might suddenly grind to a halt because the miners are out and the power stations have shut down.
 Home Again's strength lies in the fact that it manages to tick a lot of boxes without sounding like it set out to tick a lot of boxes. It seems a faintly ridiculous thing to say about an album that's so clearly busting a gut to sound 40 years older than it actually is, but it feels natural rather than forced or calculating. That's partly down to Paul Butler's production. It's perhaps a bit much to coat Kiwanuka's vocals in a thin layer of distortion – a kind of sonic equivalent of distressing furniture with sandpaper – with the implicit accompanying suggestion this music has recently been unearthed in the vaults of Blue Thumb or Cadet Records rather than recorded on the Isle of Wight last year with the bloke out of the Bees, but there's something beguiling about its warm, live sound. Mostly, though, it's down to Kiwanuka's voice and songs. The former is rich and fluid, the latter balance a sure grasp of an immediate melody against chord sequences that shift in ways you don't quite anticipate. Listening to Tell Me a Tale or I Won't Lie, you're struck by the way they manage to sound both comfortingly familiar and slightly unexpected, an impressive trick to pull off.[...]

- Alexis Petrides (The Guardian

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